Hoca Ali Rıza was born in Üsküdar. His interest in art began when he was studying at the Military High School; later, he took lessons from leading painters of the period: Osman Nuri Paşa, Süleyman Seyyid and Pierre Quès. After graduating from the Military Academy in 1884 he was appointed as art teacher at the same school, and the following year became head of the school’s art studio with the rank of adjutant major. He trained many military artists, and also taught at the School of Fine Arts for Girls and several girls' high schools. When the Ottoman Society of Painters was founded in 1909 he served as its president for a brief period and wrote articles for the society's periodical. He retired in 1910. His only solo exhibition was held three years after his death in Eminönü Community Centre.
Hoca Ali Rıza is one of the military painters, a group of artists who trained at 19th century Ottoman military schools, where the teaching followed western methods. These artists can be regarded as the initiators of western-style painting in Ottoman Turkey in the nineteenth century. They often preferred to paint landscapes and still lifes because of a traditional reluctance to depict human figures in Ottoman art, portraits of the sultans being an exception.