Schreyer was born in Frankfurt and lived much of his life there. He trained at the Städel Institute. He joined the household of Maximillian Karl, sixth Prince of Thurn and Taxis, a minor royal family that was based in Frankfurt, and traveled with that household through Hungary and into Russia and Turkey. In the 1850s he served as a painter in the ranks of the Austrian army, traveling with it through Wallachia.
The unsettled nature of Wallachia would later provide Schreyer topics for his canvases. In about 1856, Schreyer left the service of the Austrians and traveled around the Mediterranean to Syria, Egypt, and Algiers. He settled in Paris in 1862 and, in 1864, showed his first painting at the Salon. Schreyer remained in Paris until 1870. In 1870, Schreyer returned to Germany. He exhibited in the Vienna Exposition in 1873.
Schreyer was known as a painter of horses and battlefields, and of Orientalist topics. His work sold well in the United States.