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    

Rare "a" Seal Kawase Hasui Japanese Woodblock Pre-war Watanabe PublisherRare Pre-earthquake Kawase Hasui Japanese Woodblock 1922 6mm Seal First EditionJapanese Woodblock Print By Yoshitoshi Girl With Kitten 1888. MeijiWoodblock Print, Charles W Bartlett, Lake Dal, Kashmir, 1916, Boat, Lake, Blue Ukiyo-e Japanese Woodblock Print A-8 "eizan" 2 Sheets SetAsian Continent 1550 Sebastian Munster Unusual Antique Original Woodblock MapHiroshi Yoshida, Listed, Japanese Woodblock Print, Toshogu ShrineUkiyo-e Japanese Woodblock Print L-16 "yoshitsuya" 3 Sheets SetKiyoshi Saito, Large Color Woodblock Print, Kozan-ji-kyoto (b), 1963, SignedUkiyo-e Japanese Woodblock Print A-7 "eisen" 2 Sheets SetKiyoshi Saito, Large Color Woodblock Print, Notre Dame, Paris, 1960, SignedKiyoshi Saito Signed 1961 Original Japanese Modernist Woodblock Print 23"x17" NrUkiyo-e Hanga Woodblock Print Edo Period Horses (2) After Kunisada - Aoyama YqzTaj Mahal 1916 Rare Charles W. Bartlett Signed Japanese Watanabe Woodblock PrintUkiyo-e Japanese Woodblock Print K-14 "kiyochika Kobayashi" Kuniyoshi Japanese Woodblock Print 10 Books Set Hideyoshi Samurai War 1851 Edo*5Signed Tomikichiro Tokuriki Japanese Pagoda Landscape Colored Woodblock Print NrOrig Japanese Woodblock Print Book Atlas Map Of Ryukyu, Korea, Etc 18thcArtist Signed Hiroshige Japanese Mountain River Landscape Woodblock Color Print West Indies Caribbean 1550 MÜnster Antique Original Woodblock Engraved MapUkiyo-e Japanese Woodblock Print L-18 "yoshikazu" 3 Sheets SetOrig Japanese Woodblock Print Book Set (2 Vols) Japanese Invasion Of Taiwan 1874Ukiyo-e Japanese Woodblock Print K-15 "kiyochika Kobayashi" Ukiyo-e Japanese Woodblock Print A-13 "eizan" 2 Sheets SetUkiyo-e Japanese Woodblock Print L-17 "sadahide" 3 Sheets SetUkiyo-e Japanese Woodblock Print K-13 "kiyochika Kobayashi" Ukiyo-e Japanese Woodblock Print A-5 "kuniyoshi"1947 Japanese Woodblock Listed Kawase Hasui "spring Evening At Kintai Bridge"Tokuro Katata Japan Temple River Landscape Original Woodblock Print Listed NrRomania Bulgaria Hungary 1550 MÜnster Antique Original Woodblock Engraved MapTurkey Cyprus & Syria 1550 MÜnster Antique Original Woodblock Engraved MapKawase Hasui Japanese Woodblock And One Other Free ShippingPaul Jacoulet, Listed, Japanese Woodblock Print, Hokkan-zan. Seoul, Coree, 1937Ukiyo-e Japanese Woodblock Print A-11 "yoshitora" 2 Sheets SetUkiyo-e Japanese Woodblock Print A-10 "kunisada" 2 Sheets SetIsrael Holy Land Middle East Cyprus 1550 MÜnster Antique Woodblock Engraved MapUkiyo-e Japanese Woodblock Print M-11 "hiroshige""edo Meisyo" Ukiyo-e Japanese Woodblock Print A-1 "toyokuni"Poland & German 1550 Sebastian MÜnster Antique Original Woodblock Engraved MapGinko Manga #1 Japanese Woodblock Print Book Bird Flower Animal 1892 Meiji *3988909# Japanese Woodblock Print/ Hand Printed / Hokusai / 36 Views Of Mount FujiGreece Crete Macedonia 1550 MÜnster Antique Original Woodblock Engraved MapC.1920's~philip Gregory Needell (1886-1974)~"the Mill At Cley" Norfolk~woodblockJerusalem Israel 1550 MÜnster Antique Original Woodblock Engraved City ViewTsuchiya Koitsu Japanese Woodblock Print - Manazuru Harbor 1936 ($0.99 Start) Jerusalem Israel 1575 Belleforest Antique Original Woodblock Engraved City ViewItaly 1493 Hartmann Schedel Rare First Latin Edition Antique Woodblock City ViewOrig Japanese Woodblock Print Book Trader's English Dictionary Meiji 6 = 1873Ukiyo-e Japanese Woodblock Print M-7 "hiroshige""edo Meisyo" African Continent 1550 Sebastian MÜnster Antique Original Woodblock Engraved MapUkiyo-e Japanese Woodblock Print Q-6 "kunichika" 3 Sheets SetUkiyo-e Japanese Woodblock Print Q-13 "toyokuni" Paul Jacoulet La Nouvelle Robe Woodblock Print Signed By ArtistOrig Japanese Woodblock Print Map Of Choson (korea) Meiji 27 = 1894Japanese Woodblock Bijin Print By Kunichika 1873 MeijiUkiyo-e Japanese Woodblock Print K-19 "toyokuni" 3 Sheets SetUkiyo-e Japanese Woodblock Print M-14 "hiroshige""edo Meisyo" Ukiyo-e Japanese Woodblock Print Q-3 "toyokuni"Ukiyo-e Japanese Woodblock Print K-20 "hiroshige""edo Meisyo" Armenia Black & Caspian Sea Russia 1550 MÜnster Antique Woodblock Engraved Map