John Syer was born in Atherstone in 1815, and began his artistic studies in Bristol with the miniaturist, J. Fisher. He was later influenced by the work of David Cox and William Mueller. Syer was a well known landscape painter working extensively in Devon and Wales. His water-colour drawings were primarily Welsh and Belgian scenes. His water- colour drawings were rich and colorful, a style attributed to David Cox.
In 1850 Messrs, Rowney and Co. published a number of his drawings, including Marine and River Views and Rustic Scenes. His work was also included in another publication, Studies from the Portfolios of Various Artists, drawn from Nature and on Stone. Between 1846 and 1875 he exhibited at the Royal Academy, British Institution, the Walker Art Gallery (Liverpool), the Grosvenor Gallery, The New Watercolour Society, and the Royal Society of British Artists (Suffolk Street). Syer was elected a member of the Royal Institute of Painters in Watercolours, and the Royal Institute of Oil Painters.
Syer died in June of 1885 at the age of 70. His sons, John Jr. and James were also artists.