Hüseyin Avni Lifij was born in Samsun and after completing his secondary education enrolled at the School of Fine Arts, but illness prevented him from graduating. He attended anatomy lessons at the Civil Medical College, and classes in physics and chemistry at the Pharmacy School as a non-enrolled student. He showed examples of his artwork to Osman Hamdi Bey, who was impressed, and recommended him to Crown Prince Abdülmecid Efendi, who paid for his further education in Paris. In 1909 he became a non-enrolled student at the Academy of Fine Arts in Paris and attended the studio of the famous painter Fernand Cormon (1845-1924). After becoming close friends with Jean Lecomte Du Noüy (1842-1923) he began to work at his studio. He returned to Istanbul in 1912 and was appointed art teacher at Istanbul High School for Boys and French teacher at Kandilli High School for Girls. Twenty of his works were exhibited at the Galatasaraylılar Yurdu in 1917, and eighteen at the Vienna and Berlin Exhibitions in 1918. His first solo exhibition was held at the Orient Littéraire in 1918. In 1924 he was appointed art teacher at the School of Fine Arts (later the Academy of Fine Arts) and remained in this post until his death.
Lifij was one of the young Ottoman artists who went to Europe to study art in 1909-1910—principally at the Julian Academy in Paris—but were obliged to return home at the outbreak of the First World War, therefore becoming known as the '1914 Generation'. Leading painters like İbrahim Çallı, Nazmi Ziya, Avni Lifij, Feyhaman Duran, Namık İsmail and Hikmet Onat belonged to this group, which played an important part in the spread of such genres as landscape and still life in Turkish painting. One striking aspect of their work is the way their paintings reflect their own impressions and personal interpretations. Owing to their pure colors and sensitivity to light, these painters are sometimes described as the Turkish Impressionists. Almost all of them were among the first Turkish teachers at the Academy of Fine Arts in Istanbul and so were active in training the next generations of Turkish artists.