Artist:Peter Petersen Tofft (1825-1901 ) California / American

Titled: ” Bethany, Palestine”
Signed: lower right & dated 1882
Measures: 10×14.5 inches
watercolor on board
Farhat Art Museum Collection


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Peter Petersen Tofft was active/lived in California, Montana / England, South Africa, Denmark. Peter Tofft is known for landscape, marine, illustrator, historical views.
Born in Kolding, Denmark on May 2, 1825. Toft was educated in his native land. At age 16 he began his travels aboard a whaler and in 1849 sailed into San Francisco Bay aboard the ship Ohio. After unsuccessfully panning for gold around the Trinity River, he returned to San Francisco where he contributed illustrations to Harper’s. While in California, he made many painting excursions to Oregon, Washington, and British Columbia. He signed his works in various ways: Tofft, Tufts, Toffts, Toft, and with his monogram, the letter T with a circle drawn around its stem. In 1867 he was in NYC and in 1869 returned to Kolding. In 1870 he settled in London where he remained until his death on Dec. 17, 1901. His watercolors are rare and historically important. Exh: Mechanics’ Inst. Fair (SF), 1864; San Francisco Art Association, 1872-1900; Royal Academy, London. In: Oakland Museum; House of Parliament (Victoria, B.C.); Bancroft Library (UC Berkeley); Montana Historical Society; NMAA.
The following, submitted October 2005, is from Kristine Cummins, who wrote the article for her local newspaper in Napa, California.
Treasure Found At Napa Valley, California Salvation Army

“Nope, Doesn’t Happen to Me”
Rummaging through stacks of tacky art and battered frames in a bin at the local Napa Salvation Army on December 29th, 2004, Karol and her daughter Kristine Cummins found a battered, framed picture of an old town. Looking closely, it appeared to be a watercolor, but they weren’t sure if it was an original. Paintings of old towns wasn’t quite what they were looking for – more like sailing art for a sneaky “While You Were Out” decorating session at brother John’s house. John was happily driving down Baja with his son, while mom and daughter were being mischievous. They thought that the painting could possibly be a nice addition, so they brought it home. Heck, it’s 1/2 off day sale – it’s only $2.50 cents – may as well get it.
As soon as they got home, curiosity got the best of them as they did a double-take. So, as if they were doing precision surgery, they carefully dismantled the paper and wood backing and pulled out the matted art preserved behind glass. At close inspection of the 5 3/4″ x 8 3/4″ painting, they confirmed that it was an original watercolor as some of the pigmentation shown signs of deterioration. Being art lovers and Kristine being a watercolorist, they knew enough to know that this was not an ordinary find. Their intuition was on the way to being confirmed.
In faint cursive handwriting in graphite on the back of the painting read, “View of Barker’s claim and town from the Canadian cabin. Drawn by P. Toft, Cariboo 1863” (See below). Written on the wood backing read, “Cariboo British Colombia, Barker Claim, Barkerville, Williams Creek #25.”
Carrying the belief that, “Nope, It doesn’t happen to me,” attitude, they just sat there staring at it in surprise and asked each other, “What do we do with it now?” Having found an original painting over one hundred and fifty years old, they knew it must have been worth something!

Dutch Artist Sailed His Way to San Francisco
Daughter Kristine disappeared to her computer and dug up bits of gold. It wasn’t much that she could find on the artist, P. Toft, but what she did learn about Toft, made the painting even more fascinating.
He was born in Kolding, Denmark in 1825, and during his youth in Copenhagen, he studied illustration and painting. P. Toft became known as an itinerant artist known for landscapes, genre depictions, topographical and architectural watercolors. At the age of 25, he sailed aboard the ship, “Ohio” and arrived in San Francisco in 1850.
The year Toft landed in the U.S. in 1850, New York city launched the first print magazine. Toft was one of the first illustrators for the magazine covering literature, politics, culture, and the arts. Inspired by the public demand for illustrations of the American Civil War, Harper’s was the first American publication to include illustrations.
While based in San Francisco, he traveled north to Portland, Oregon where he inspired Thaddeous Welch who later became even more well-known than Toft for his landscapes in oil. Toft’s travels drew him north to Washington and Montana where he befriended the governor. He then traveled into British Columbia which now was confirmed that he visited a small gold rush town of Barkerville in 1863.
A couple of years later in 1865 he made his way back down south to where he painted on the Palouse River in Idaho, one of the great Forks of the Columbia River.
In 1868 at the age of 43, he returned to Denmark, and ended up settling in London where he exhibited at the Royal Society every year until 1885. He passed away in London, England at the age of 76 in 1901.
Anyone Home?
Curious about the town that Toft painted, Kristine found a website specifically on Barkerville ( She learned that the town of Barkerville thrives off of tourists being a town much like Columbia in California and Virginia City in Nevada. Exuberantly, she contacted the town via the website letting them know she had found a little masterpiece of their gold rush town. Days later, William Quackenbush, Historian and Curator of the Barkerville museum, emailed back with intrigue in addition to sharing in depth, the rich history of Barkerville.

Barker Struck it Rich & Made a Town
The town of Barkerville is 4,200 feet in the Cariboo Mountains and has been operating as a historic site since 1958 by the Province of British Columbia, Canada. Barkerville was the supply town for the goldfields of the Cariboo and was initially set up in 1862 in association with a large find by Billy Barker. The purity of Cariboo gold brought in a premium for the town and the dust on Williams Creek generally brought in $16.50 per ounce. This is quite high when speaking of the relative value of placer gold compare to elsewhere. There is still active hard rock and placer mining in the area, but tourism associated with Barkerville has become the main stay of the local economy. Between May and September after the snow has melted, Barkerville welcomes 100,000 visitors a year. William Quackenbush says quote, “Because the site is primarily owned and operated by the Government, the commercialism that is associated with so many other sites has been kept to a minimum. Barkerville is quite likely the largest site of its type in North America, and also one of the best kept secrets.”

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