Woodblocks are the oldest form of prints—historians believe woodcutting originated in China around the early 9th century. Until the 15th century, it was also used in Europe and the Middle East to decorate textiles. With the birth of the printing press in the 16th century, woodblock printing became a common way of illustrating books because the woodblocks could be cut to the same thickness as the fixed type, which allowed images and text to be printed in the same process.

To make a woodcut, an engraver starts with a block of wood and carves out a design. After using a roller to cover the block with ink, the block is run through a light press to transfer the ink from the block to the page. All areas that have been carved out of the block appear as white on the paper since the ink covers only the areas of the block left standing in relief. The resulting print is thus a mirror image of the design on the block.

One of the most accomplished woodcut artists was Albrecht Dürer, a German engraver who lived in the late 15th and early 16th centuries. Dürer’s prints such as “The Expulsion from Paradise” and “Adam and Eve” are incredibly intricate and quite valuable today. His works were published and republished several times during his lifetime, as well as for a hundred years or so after his death. Other notable woodcut makers from the same period include Martin Schongauer, Hans Brosamer, Hans Baldung, Urs Graf, Lucas Cranach the Elder, and Hans Sebald Beham.

Woodcuts fell out of style in the 17th century but experienced a rebirth of sorts in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, especially among the German Expressionists. Avant-garde artists saw the dramatic and forceful potential of woodcuts, and they created pieces that were stark and stylized. Prominent artists from this period included Paul Gauguin, Georges Braque, and Max Pechstein.

In the early 20th century, a group of young artists also used woodcut techniques to produce both traditional decorative items and depictions of modern industry. This group included Roger Fry, Paul Nash, and Leon Underwood.

Today, the most valuable woodblock prints are those executed by either old masters like Dürer or by late 19th century and early 20th century artists, especially the German Expressionists. Unsigned prints are generally less valuable.


Best of the Web (“Hall of Fame”)

London Transport Museum Posters

London Transport Museum Posters

A must-see collection of 5,000 vivid, colorful British posters from the early 1900s onward. Browse by artist (over … [read review or visit site]

Metropolitan Museum of Art: Timeline of Art History

Metropolitan Museum of Art: Timeline of Art History

Travel around the world through art with this museums collection of over 6,000 works of art, from Egypt to North A… [read review or visit site]

Asian Art Museum

Asian Art Museum

You can get happily lost searching through the 10,000 or so objects on the Asian Art Museum's website. For example,… [read review or visit site]

Fillmore and Avalon Collection

Fillmore and Avalon Collection

Wish you'd visited San Francisco in the late 1960s? Get a quick hit with this comprehensive collection of psychedel… [read review or visit site]

Gotheborg.com

Gotheborg.com

Jan-Erik Nilsson's extensive reference on antique Chinese porcelain. Jam-packed with information (e.g. on porcelain… [read review or visit site]

USSR Posters

USSR Posters

Ben Perry's Flickr photoset showcasing almost 1500 Soviet propaganda, advertising, theatre and movie posters from 1… [read review or visit site]

New York Public Library

New York Public Library

The New York Public Library's impressive Digital Gallery offers free access to over 500,000 historical images inclu… [read review or visit site]

The American Memory Project

The American Memory Project

This amazing Library of Congress site includes about a hundred photo and document collections (see complete list) o… [read review or visit site]



Other Great Reference Sites

Most watched eBay auctions    

Antique 1935 Yoshida Hiroshi Japanese Woodblock Print, Gion Shrine GateVintage 1951 Toshi Yoshida Japanese Woodblock Print,silver Pavillion ... NrJapanese Woodblock Print By UtamaroAntique Japanese Woodblock Print Hasui Kawase Snow On Bridge WatanabeJapanese Shinhanga Woodblock Print By Hasui. Zentsuji TempleOrig Japanese Woodblock Print Book Hokusai Fugaku Hyakkei Views Of FujiJapanese Shinhanga Woodblock Print By Hasui. Katsuga ShrineJapanese Woodblock Print By YoshitoshiJapanese Woodblock Print By ChikanobuJapanese Woodblock Print By HasuiJapanese Woodblock Print By UtamaroEncyclopedia Of Edo Era Japanese Woodblock Print Book Maps Samurai Armor 1831*69Toshi Yoshida - Japanese Woodblock PrintJapanese Woodblock Print By TsukimaroJapanese Woodblock Print By Yoshikuni (7 Sheets)Antique Japanese Woodblock Print Tsuchiya Koitsu Summer Moon At Miyajima FramedOrig Japanese Woodblock Print Book Kachoga Birds Of Japan Bairei 1881Japanese Woodblock Print By YoshitoshiCape Of Good Hope Woodblock 1d Pale Blue Colour Error, Reference Example.Shotei Japanese Woodblock Print Spring Evening Woman & Lantern 1936 HiroakiJapanese Woodblock Print By HasuiJapanese Woodblock Print By Kuniyoshi (triptych)Japanese Woodblock Print By YoshitoshiJapanese Woodblock Print By Sonsai KoitsuJapanese Woodblock Print By YoshitoshiJapanese Woodblock Print By YoshitoshiAntique Japanese Marked Edo Woodblock Print Ukiyoe Warrior Samurai Yoroi 3p Japanese Woodblock Print By Kuniaki (triptych)Japanese Woodblock Print By Chikanobu (triptych)Japanese Woodblock Print By Chikanobu (triptych)Japanese Woodblock Print By Kunisada (triptych)Japanese Woodblock Print By YoshitoshiJapanese Woodblock Print By Chikanobu (triptych)Japanese Woodblock Print By Nobukazu (triptych)Antique Utagawa Kunisada Japanese Woodblock Samurai Double PrintAntique Japanese Woodblock Print Tsuchiy Koitsu Suma Beach Kiyoshi Saito (1907-1997) Pencil Signed & Stamped Japanese Woodblock Print 1960s4 Antique Japanese Geisha Samurai Mt. Fuji Woodblock PrintsKiyoshi Saito (1907-1997) Signed Japanese Woodblock Print Framed No Reserve1905 Japanese Full-color Woodblock Print Art Design Book Art Nouveau RimpaJapanese Woodblock Print By Kunisada (triptych)Vintage Japanese Woodblock Print Kawase Hasui 1930's Miyajima Shrine In Snow V.gOrig Japanese Woodblock Print Book Early Views Kansei 8 = 1796Japanese Woodblock Print By ShunchoSamurai Armor Japanese Woodblock Print Book 5 Vol Set Wearing Method Edo 1837*93Japanese Woodblock Print By Hirosada (triptych)Japanese Woodblock Print By KunisadaJapanese Woodblock Print By KuniyoshiJapanese Woodblock Print By SadayoshiAntique Japanese Woodblock Print Toyohara Kunichika 1865 Edo Period ToshidamaJapanese Woodblock Print By SadahideChinese Poetry With Illustrations Japanese Woodblock Print 7 Books Edo 1814 *77Tadashi Nakayama (b. 1927) Woodblock Print Pencil Signed 1968 HorseAntique Japanese Woodblock Print Toyohara Kunichika 1865 Edo Period ToshidamaUnknown Artist Woodblock Print 12Vintage Hiroshi Yoshida Three Little Islands Wood Framed Woodblock Print JapanHuge Orig Japanese Woodblock Print Washington Dc Pencil Limit# Kitaoka Fumio Japanese Woodblock Print By KunisadaJapanese Woodblock Print By KunisadaShiro Kasamatsu - Japanese Woodblock Print