Toby Rosenthal: Famous Jewish Artist of Early San Francisco

Toby Edward Rosenthal

Toby Rosenthal Self Portrait. WS 22/3250

Toby Rosenthal, Self Portrait, #WS 22/3250

Values Codes I – H – E – L


Toby Rosenthal was born in 1848 in the Prussian-Polish city of Strassburg.

He was brought to America in 1853.

(Other biographies state he was born in Connecticut.)


San Francisco

In 1858, the Rosenthal family moved to San Francisco, where Toby’s parents had a tailoring and cleaning business.

Rosenthal soon gave evidence of great artistic ability. He began art lessons, and in 1865 was sent to Munich to further studies.

Toby Rosenthal became known as the first impor­tant California Jewish artist, though his major works were produced in Europe.

Sheet Music showing of Toby Rosenthal's "Elaine" WS 27/3991

Sheet music with Toby Rosenthal’s “Elaine,”
#WS 27/3991

When he sent his painting Elaine to San Francisco for display in 1875, crowds of people paid admission to stand before it, many with tears in their eyes.

The painting was stolen a few days later, and made front-page news throughout the country. It was the first major art theft in U.S. history.

The painting’s recovery was one of the great triumphs of the San Francisco Police Department.

Rosenthal painted portraits of numerous San Franciscans while they were on tours in Europe.

He was also art advisor to Jacob Stern, nephew of Levi Strauss.

Rosenthal’s painting, The Cardinal’s Portrait, owned by the Jacob Stern estate, was voted “favor­ite painting” by San Franciscans.

Toby Rosenthal passed away in 1917.

Toby Rosenthal, “A Dance Lesson,” San Francisco, CA, #WS3248

Young Toby Rosenthal WS 22/3246

Young Toby Rosenthal, #WS22/3246


  • Norton B. Stern and William M. Kramer, “Toby Rosenthal: Childhood of San Francisco’s Artist,” Western States Jewish History 24/2.
  • Norton B. Stern and William M. Kramer, “Patrons of Artist Toby E. Rosenthal,” Western States Jewish History 18/2.
  • Norton B. Stern, “Toby E. Rosenthal,” Western States Jewish History 41/2.