Werner Laves began his artistic career in 1919 at the State School of Arts and Crafts in Weimar, and continued his studies in 1920 at the State School of Arts and Crafts in Munich. He attended the School of Arts and Crafts in Berlin-Charlottenburg from 1923 to 1928, where he studied painting under Karl Hofer and etching under Hans Meid. Laves became a master student of Hofer, and was given his own studio. After finishing his studies in 1929, he took part in several exhibitions in Berlin, including those of the Die Juryfreien association and of the Berlin Secession.
In 1930 he was awarded the Rome Prize, which provided a scholarship for him to live and work in the Villa Massimo in Rome. A private scholarship enabled him to visit the Chateau Noir du Tholonet near Aix-en-Provence in southern France in 1931, where a German colony of artists had settled. The outbreak of war in 1939 caught him unawares, and he was interned in the French camp at Les Milles in Aix-en-Provence. From 1940 onwards, he worked as an interpreter for the German military, and was made a POW of the French in 1944. In 1943, almost all his paintings in his Berlin studio were destroyed in a bombing raid. In 1948, Laves was appointed to the pedagogical department of the Academy of Fine Arts in Berlin.