Born Félix-Francois Georges Philibert Ziem on February 26, 1821 in Beaune in the Côte d'Or département of the Burgundy région of France, his mother was a native of Burgundy who married a Croatian immigrant. Originally, Ziem planned to be an architect and studied at the School of Architecture in Dijon, and for a time worked as an architect. Painting developed from a hobby to a career following an 1841 visit to Italy where he fell in love with the city of Venice, a place that would become the source for many of his works. Apart from Venetian scenes, he also painted many still lifes, portraits and landscapes from a variety of places including Constantinople and his native Burgundy.
Ziem's works were first exhibited in 1849 at the Paris Salon and remained a regular exhibitor there for many years. Part of the Barbizon school, he also traveled extensively throughout Europe and in 1860 moved to Montmartre, the artistic quarter of the city of Paris. Financially successful, he was known to assist struggling young artists.
In 1857, the government of France recognized his contribution to the art world by making him a Chevalier of the Legion of Honor.
Félix Ziem died November 10, 1911 and was interred in the Père Lachaise Cemetery in Paris.