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    

Vintage Signed Katsuyuki Nishijima Japanese Woodblock Print Kyoto Houses, NrUkiyo-e Rare Diptych Woodblock Print Edo Ghost Kabuki Toyokuni Iii Kunisada YqzRare Ito Shinsui "cotton Kimono" 1922 Japanese Woodblock Print Dated/signed NrUkiyo-e Woodblock Print Oiran Geisha Kimono Collection Of Beauties Kunisada YqzUkiyo-e Japanese Woodblock Print  e-17 "hiroshige" 1880 Toyonobu Japanese Woodblock Print Triptych - Samurai Winter Ambush In SnowUkiyo-e Woodblock Print Oiran Geisha Dragon Kimono Obi - Kunisada Ii YqzJapanese Woodblock Print Of Onna-gata Actor. 194 Years Old. Edo Period2-30 Japanese Flower Shiki Natu1woodblock Print BookUkiyo-e Japanese Woodblock Print  d-8 "shinsui Ito"Orig Japanese Woodblock Print Book Catalog Of Large Full Color Fan DesignsAntique Vintage Woodblock Print Kawase Hasui Spring Rain At Gokokuji TempleLarge Original Japanese Woodblock Print Pencil Sgn Limit# Fujita Fumio Green A Original Signed Kyoshi Saito Woodblock Print "kyoto (e)" # 60/100 Dated 1958Ukiyo-e Japanese Woodblock Print  e-15 "kuniyoshi" 2 Sheets Set1-10 Japanese Flower Picture Soka Woodblock Print Book2-30 Japanese Flower Shiki Haru1 Woodblock Print BookUkiyo-e Japanese Woodblock Print  e-18 "hiroshige" Antique 19th C. Japanese Woodblock Print Of Geisha Girl Signed Very Early Ukiyo-e Japanese Woodblock Print  c-1 "kuniyoshi"Antique Japanese Erotic Shunga Woodblock Print BookOrig Japanese Woodblock Print Newspaper Set 4 Grant Visit 1879 Maru Maru ChimbunUkiyo-e Japanese Woodblock Print  e-20 "kiku" Set Of 6 Antique Chinese Woodblock Print Books 1840 Qing Dynasty 清嘉慶年版《韓非子評註》Orig Japanese Woodblock Print Hiroshige Uchiwa Fan C1830Ukiyo-e Japanese Woodblock Print  d-10 "yoshitora"Orig Japanese Woodblock Print Newspaper Set 4 Grant Visit 1879 Maru Maru ChimbunOrig Japanese Woodblock Print Newspaper Set 4 Grant Visit 1879 Maru Maru ChimbunOrig Japanese Woodblock Print Newspaper Set 4 Grant Visit 1879 Maru Maru ChimbunUkiyo-e Japanese Woodblock Print  g-2 "momo " Original Japanese Woodblock Print: 1st Edition By Shodo KawarazakiValence France 1575 Belleforest Very Rare Antique Original Woodblock City Map2-20 Yoshitoshi Japanese Kyogiden Ukiyoe Woodblock Print Book1-15 Japanese Hobun Gafu Woodblock Print Book HobunOriginal Japanese Woodblock Print: 1st Edition By Shodo KawarazakiOrig Japanese Woodblock Print Hokusai School Letter Stationery C1830Japanese Woodblock Print Toyokuni Iii Bijin PrintLarge Orig Japanese Woodblock Print Limit# Pencil Sgn Hashimoto Okiie Mt Fuji SpGekko Manga 4 Ogata Japanese Antique Woodblock Print Book 1899s Ehon Yokai Ghost2-25 Kaishien Chinese Pictures Japanese Woodblock Print 5 Book1-10 Ogata Korin Japanese Color Woodblock Book3-35 Azuma Ukiyoe Beauty Japanese Woodblock Print 2 BookOrig Japanese Woodblock Print Newspaper Set 4 Grant Visit 1879 Maru Maru ChimbunOriginal Japanese Woodblock Print: 1st Edition By Shodo Kawarazaki1927 Ohara Koson Japanese Woodblock Print 5 White HeronsGekko Manga 6 Ogata Japanese Antique Woodblock Print Book Ehon Yokai Rokurokubi1-15 Japanese Kimono Design Hana5 Woodblock Print Book1-10 Japanese Animal Fish Dobutu Woodblock Print Book1-10 Japanese Bird Kacho Woodblock Print BookVery Big 19th C Japanese Antique Woodblock Printed Old Fortune Telling Book 18 Vintage Japanese Woodblock Print Cranes (1)Orig Japanese Woodblock Print Yokohama-e Foreign Couple W/ Child Yoshitomi 18612-25 Utamaro Japanese Ukiyoe Ehon Woodblock Print 2 Book S1-20 Chinese Pictures Kanga Japanese Woodblock Print 2 Book S1-15 Japanese Korea Okinawa Chinese India Map Woodblock Print Book 64Huge Original Japanese Woodblock Print Nishijima Kazuyuki New Omi Eight SceneryOriginal Japanese Woodblock Print: 1st Edition By Shodo Kawarazaki Vintage Japanese Woodblock Print Cranes100 Japan Japanese Postcard Geisha Woodblock Print Emperor Navy Army Photo Art 1-15 Kiho Japanese Ehon Gafu Ukiyoe Woodblock Print Book