Born in in Razgrad in 1903, graduated from the Art Academy in Sofia in the class of Nikola Marinov in 1926. After graduation he continues his education in Munich where he studied in the school of Prof Hainrich Man between 1926 and 1928. In the 1930s he made study trips to France and Italy. Since 1941 he is a lecturer and since 1946 a professor at the Art Academy in Sofia. Ilya Petrov played a significant role in the education of many Bulgarian painters from the younger generation. Today, the Art Gymnasium in Sofia carries his name.
Ilya Petrov was active in the Pirin Macedonia region during 1940s. He was a very famous portrait painter, and one work from his Macedonian period is the portrait of the Macedonian poet Nikola Ionkov Vapcarov, sold by the Auction House Victoria, Sofia on 12/Oct/2009 (lot number: 1001).