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]

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]

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]

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    

Hiroshi Yoshida Japanese Woodblock Print $1 To Start Mt Rainier Very RareJapanese Wood-block Print Ukiyoe "goyou Hashiguchi" 4Hasui Japanese Woodblock Print $1 To Start Scarce Doi LifetimeHasui Japanese Woodblock Print $1 To Start Nr Pristine Early Print Kozu Osaka*hiroshi Yoshida* Japanese Colour Woodblock Print, *suzukawa*Kiyoshi Saito -storage House Japanese Woodblock Print Signed - ExcellentHasui - Woodblock Print - Soshu Maekawa No Ame (rain In Maekawa)Japanese Wood-block Print Ukiyoe "goyou Hashiguchi" 6Japanese Wood-block Print Ukiyoe "kyodou Risshi No Motoi" E-5 "toshikata"Japanese Wood-block Print Ukiyoe "hiroshige" L-3 3 Sheets Set "buyou"Japanese Wood-block Print Ukiyoe "hiroshige" L-1 3 Sheets Set "awa"Japanese Wood-block Print Ukiyoe "chikanobu Yousyu" G-13 3 Sheets SetOrig Japanese Woodblock Print Tsuchiya Koitsu Doi Publisher Mark Spring SnowJapanese Wood-block Print Ukiyoe "goyou Hashiguchi" 5Japanese Wood-block Print Ukiyoe "hiroshige" L-2 3 Sheets Set "kisodani"Hasui Vintage Original 1926 Woodblock Print Kojaku Grotto At Oga Peninsula 川瀬 巴水Shiro Kasamatsu - Japanese Woodblock PrintJapanese Wood-block Print Ukiyoe "chikanobu Yousyu" G-11 3 Sheets SetJapanese Wood-block Print Ukiyoe "goyou Hashiguchi" 3Koichi Okada - Japanese Woodblock PrintSigned Jacob Pierneef South Africa Portrait Man Wood Block Print 1921 Listed Bpi2-20 Kajita Hanko Kuchie Japanese Woodblock Print Book Tenutu Japanese Wood-block Print Ukiyoe "koukoku 24 Kou" E-3Japanese Wood-block Print Ukiyoe "kyodou Risshi No Motoi" E-11Hasui Vintage Original 1930 Woodblock Print Cryptomeria Avenue At Nikko 川瀬 巴水Japanese Wood-block Print Ukiyoe "goyou Hashiguchi" 1Japanese Wood-block Print Ukiyoe "chikanobu Yousyu" C-18 3 Sheets Set19thc Japanese Woodblock Hiroshige New Year's Eve Foxfires Under The Tree NrJapanese Wood-block Print Ukiyoe "chikanobu Yousyu" C-17 3 Sheets SetJapanese Wood-block Print Ukiyoe "goyou Hashiguchi" 2Unknown Artist Woodblock 62Japanese Wood-block Print Ukiyoe "chikanobu Yousyu" C-16 3 Sheets SetKawase Hasui Woodblock Print Snow At Ueno Toshogu Shrine 3.75" X 5.75"Japanese Wood-block Print Ukiyoe "kyodou Risshi No Motoi" E-16 "kiyochika" 4-46 Hokusai Water Margin Ukiyoe Woodblock Print 5 Book S Shinpen Suiko Gaden 2-31 Buncho Great Mountain Japanese Woodblock Print 3 Book Nihon Meizan ZueHerschel C Logan Pencil Signed L/e Woodblock Print "summer Afternoon" Framed1891 Original Imao Keinen Japanese Woodblock Print Birds & Flowers No.14Surimono Hokusai Japanese Woodblock Print $1 To Start Super RareJapanese Wood-block Print Ukiyoe "chikanobu Yousyu" C-19 3 Sheets Set2-23 Ginko Japanese Ukiyoe Ehon Woodblock Print Book Onna Reishiki Zue 2-23 Japanese Toy Doll Guide Woodblock Print Book Unai5 Japanese Wood-block Print Ukiyoe "chikanobu Yousyu" I-9 3 Sheets Set1-7 Osaka Landscape Japanese Ehon Woodblock Print Book 3 NaniwaJapanese Woodblock - Tomoo Inagaki - Pencil Signed/numbered - Portrait Of A CatHuge Orig Japanese Woodblock Print Limit# Pencil Sign Kurosaki Akira Lost Paradi6-111 Kyoto Guide Japanese Woodblock Print 6 Book SJapanese Wood-block Print Ukiyoe "kyodou Risshi No Motoi" E-6 "tamkei"Kasamatsu Japanese Woodblock Print - Musashi-ranzan 1953 - Rare First EditionBeautiful Yixing Carved Teapot And Four Woodblock Print Books.2-25 Yoshitoshi Japanese Ukiyoe Woodblock Print 4 Book Dochukokkei Japanese Wood-block Print Ukiyoe "chikanobu Yousyu" C-20 2 Sheets Set3-46 Chinese Map Japanese Woodblock Print 3 Book Wakan63Yoshida Toshi - Santa Fe - Japanese Woodblock Print - Very LimitedAntique 19thc Hiroshige Shimmei Shrine Japanese Woodblock Print W Publisher NrMid-century Modern Colored Woodblock Print Original Dixieland Band By Lena GurrJapanese Wood-block Print Ukiyoe "chikanobu Yousyu" G-10 3 Sheets SetJapanese Wood-block Print Ukiyoe "chikanobu Yousyu" G-12 3 Sheets SetHokusai Original Japanese Woodblock Print $1 To Start Chushingura 47 RoninJapanese Wood-block Print Ukiyoe "chikanobu Yousyu" I-10 3 Sheets Set