Stannard was a pupil of Robert Ladbrooke. His early talent was noted in the Norwich Mercury in August 1818. He made connections with Norwich's Theatre Royale 1819-20 and his youthful work included a Scene in a Norwich ale-house depicting all the well-known colourful characters who lived in the City. In 1819 Stannard exhibited in London and in 1821 he visited the Netherlands. The following year he exhibited The Ferry from a celebrated Picture of Berchem in the Musee des Tableaux, Amsterdam. This visit to the Netherlands contributed to a new oil technique and deepened his interest in marine subjects. In 1823 however Stannard was in a severe financial crisis, temporarily alleviated by the patronage of the Norwich manufacturer and entrepreneur John Harvey who commissioned Stannard to paint his masterwork, Thorpe Water frolic-afternoon.
First exhibited in 1825 Thorpe Water Frolic-afternoon is a large oil on canvas work (108x172 cm) which depicts a civic regatta attended by almost 20,000 spectators when the population of Norwich itself was little more than 5,000. The Frolic was organised by John Harvey who aspired to promote Norwich as an international port.
In 1826 Stannard married, but suffered from ill-health for much of his later life. Friends and relatives rallied to support him to recuperate at the sea-side resort of Yarmouth where he painted Yarmouth Beach and Jetty. Joseph Stannard died from tuberculosis in 1830 aged just 33. His major works, in particular Thorpe Water Frolic are exhibited in Norwich Castle Museum.
Joseph Stannard was also an excellent oarsman and a skilled ice-skater. His portrait was painted by Beechey . A memorial stone to Joseph Stannard and his wife, Emily can be viewed at the Church of Saint John Maddermarket, Norwich.