Peder Andersen was born on the island of Helgøya, in Hedmark county, Norway. He was the son of Anders Thoresen and Pernille Pedersdatter. He grew up in Ringsaker, but lived in the 1820s on the Balke farm in Toten in Oppland county. Farmers in Toten paid for his education, and he decorated several farms in Toten in return. They actively encouraged his painting activities and later supported him in obtaining higher education.
In the autumn of 1827, Balke served as an apprentice to engraver and painter Heinrich August Grosch (1763–1843). He was also a student at the Tegneskole under Grosch and Jacob Munch. Balke signed a two-year contract as an apprentice to the Danish decorator and artist Jens Funch. From autumn 1829 to spring 1833, he was a pupil of Carl Johan Fahlcrantz at the Royal Swedish Academy of Fine Arts in Stockholm. Balke was also a pupil of Johan Christian Dahl from 1843 to 1844.
During the summer of 1830 he walked through Telemark, Rjukan, Vestfjorddalen through Røldal and Kinsarvik to the city of Bergen, and then back through Vossevangen to Gudvangen, further over Filefjell to Valdres and then across the mountains to Hallingdal. Along the way, he painted and drew small sketches that were later developed into paintings. He also traveled to Germany, and Russia. He visited Paris and London.
In Stockholm, he completed several of the paintings he had outlined on his 1832 Finnmark tour. Some of these were sold to the royal family. In 1846 he sold thirty of his paintings to Louis Philippe I of France for the Palace of Versailles.
He was married in 1834 to Karen Eriksdatter Strand. He was engaged in social questions and organized the construction of Balkeby, a new part of Oslo, with improved living conditions for workers. He also advocated grants for artists and pensions for men and women. He was the great-grandfather of actress, playwright and artist Turid Balke (1921 –2000) and great-great-grandfather of jazz pianist Jon Balke. He died at Christiania and was buried at Vestre Aker kirkegård.