Cevat Dereli was born in Rize and enrolled at the School of Fine Arts in 1915, becoming the student of Hikmet Onat and İbrahim Çallı. In 1922 he became one of the founders of the New Art Society. After graduating in 1923 he won a scholarship to study in Paris, where he attended the studio of Paul-Albert Laurens at the Julian Academy in 1925-1927. In 1928, after returning from Paris, he was appointed painting teacher at the Academy of Fine Arts, and the same year became a founding member of the Association of Independent Painters and Sculptors. In 1932 he resigned from his post at the academy and until 1939 worked as a graphic artist doing anatomical drawings at the Faculty of Medicine. In 1981 he was awarded the Atatürk Art Award at the exhibition held in 1981 to commemorate the centenary of Atatürk's death.
The Independents were the first generation of young painters to be taught by Turkish teachers such as İbrahim Çallı, Feyhaman Duran and Hikmet Onat, who took over from foreign teachers at the Academy of Fine Arts. Those students, who went to Europe for further studies in 1924 either on a state scholarship or by their own means, returned home in 1929 and founded the Association of Independent Painters and Sculptors. This was the first society of artists to be established after the founding of the Turkish Republic in 1923. The new group of artists held their first exhibition at the Ethnographic Museum in Ankara in 1928, and the second at the Turkish Association in Istanbul in 1929. The association played a highly influential role in arousing public interest in Turkish painting both at home and abroad. Partially in reaction to the style of the 1914 Generation, whose work had a close affinity with Impressionism, the Independents sought more solid draughtsmanship and form. Although they continued to focus on landscapes, still lifes and figurative compositions, they occasionally portrayed scenes from daily life. Members of the Independents group like Refik Fazıl Epikman, Cevat Dereli, Şeref Akdik, Mahmut Cuda, Nurullah Berk, Hale Asaf, Ali Avni Çelebi, Zeki Kocamemi and Muhittin Sebati are regarded as the generation who laid the foundations of modern art in Turkey.