Fahrelnissa was born in Istanbul on the island of Büyükada, one of the Princes' Islands, (which are part of Istanbul), in 1901 into a prominent Ottoman family. Her father was Muhammad Şakir Pasha (Kabaağaçlı), an Ottoman diplomat, brigadier, photographer, and historian, and also the brother of Grand Vizier Cevat Pasha. Her mother was Sare Ismet Hanim from Crete. She was the sister of writer Cevat Şakir Kabaağaçlı (the Fisherman of Halicarnassus/Halikarnas Balıkçısı) and painter Aliye Berger. She was also the aunt of artist Cem Kabaağaç and ceramist Fureya Koral.
She was educated at Notre Dame de Sion d'Istanbul and Pansion Bnagiotti. She was then one of the first women to attend the Fine Arts Academy (Güzel Sanatlar Akademisi) in Istanbul,later studying at the Académie Ranson in Paris under Roger Bissiere and Stahlbach.
Her first marriage was to novelist Izzet Melih Devrim, one of Servet-i Fünun writers, in 1920. This union produced two children: artist Nejad Devrim and director/actress Şirin Devrim.
In Athens, November 1933, she married Prince Zeid bin Al Hussein , the ambassador of Iraq to Ankara and brother of King Faisal I.With Zeid she had only one child, a son, Prince Ra'ad.
Her first one-woman show was held in Istanbul in 1944, followed by exhibitions in London and Paris. Her New York début came in 1950 when she exhibited a series of large abstract canvases at the Hugo Gallery. She went on to participate in almost 50 exhibitions in Europe, U.S.A. and the Middle East.
Her husband died in 1970, and in 1975 she moved to Amman, Jordan, where her son Raad lived, and where she established the Fahrelnissa Zeid Institute of Fine Arts. She died 5 September 1991 and is buried in the Royal Mausoleum, Raghdan Palace, Amman, Jordan.