Friedrich Wilhelm Meyer was born in Eastern Prussia. In 1902, his family moved to Frankfurt am Main, where Meyer completed highschool in 1917. He was drafted into the army shortly afterwards, and was captured by the Russians. In his youth he was primarily interested in the natural sciences, but after the war he decided to become an artist. After he was freed from captivity in 1919, he returned to Frankfurt am Main. From 1925 to 1927 he attended the School of Arts and Crafts in Frankfurt, where he studied under Johann Vincenz Cissarz and became his master student. In 1928, Meyer moved into the master class of Max Beckmann. Beckmann exerted an immense influence on Meyer, not just in artistic matters but also on his politics. It was through Beckmann that Meyer got to know Lilly von Schnitzler. Meyer joined the German Communist party (KPD), and his political activities meant that he suffered reprisals under the Nazis from 1933 onwards.
His art was declared “degenerate”, and many of his works were burnt along with much other art and many books on the Römerberg square in Frankfurt. Meyer was also banned from exercising his profession. His remaining paintings were confiscated. He was arrested four times, tortured, and condemned to forced labour. Meyer and his wife then withdrew to Niederwasser in the Black Forest, where they lived in inner emigration until 1946. During this time, Meyer painted unremarkable landscapes, but in secret he also painted politically critical works. Meyer continued to paint about topical, political themes after the war. His style shifted in the 1940s. From this point onwards, Meyer oriented himself on the styles of Georges Braque and Pablo Picasso. He also painted critical works such as Auschwitz (1967). In 1961, Meyer suffered his first heart attack. He also suffered from depression and attempted suicide in 1966.