Adolf Schreyer studied from 1843 to 1854 at the Städel Art Institute with Jakob Becker and Johann David Passavant. In 1848 he attended the Dusseldorf Academy of Arts and was from 1846 for two years in Munich and Stuttgart. This was followed by further stays in Vienna in 1849 and in Paris in 1852. From 1856 Schreyer accompanied the Prince of Thurn and Taxis to Hungary, Romania, southern Russia, Asia Minor and Syria. Then he traveled to Italy, Switzerland and England. From 1857 to 1860 he stayed in Frankfurt and worked in the artist colony in Kronberg during the summer months. From 1861 to 1870 he lived again in Paris and traveled to Spain and the French colonial territories in South Africa, u. a. Morocco and Algeria. Until the end of his life Schreyer lived mainly in Paris and Frankfurt and stayed in Kronberg during the summer.
Schreyer was a member of the academies in Antwerp and Rotterdam. He won the Golden Medal in Paris in 1867 and in 1880 became professor and court painter of Mecklenburg-Schwerin.
Schreyer is one of the pioneers of realistic and impressionist art in Germany. However, he remained faithful to the careful composition of the academies and developed his own style based on the new trends. From 1848 he painted with fondness animal depictions embedded in historical scenes. Horses became central to his work, especially with Arabs and fitting ambience.