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”)

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]

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]

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    

Toshi Yoshida (b.1911) Vintage Japanese Woodblock Bamboo Of The Friendly GardenVery Rare Signed Shirley Russell Woodblock "hawaiian Moonlight" - No Reserve!Toshi Yoshida (b.1911) Vintage Japanese Woodblock Plum Tree Friendly GardenHiroshi Yoshida Signed 1930's Japanese Modernist Woodblock Print 15"x10" NrToshi Yoshida Japanese Woodblock Print Bamboo Garden 1954Toshi Yoshida Japanese Woodblock Print Morning View Of Mt. Fuji From Ohito 1983Huge Orig Japanese Woodblock Print Limit# Pencil Sgn Fujita Fumio Swim Together13) Sekka Kamisaka Japanese Kimono Woodblock Print BookToshi Yoshida - Japanese Woodblock Print Plum Tree & Magpies 1951Orig Japanese Woodblock Print Book Bairei Nature Studies Meiji 22 (1889)Toshi Yoshida Japanese Woodblock Print Autumn In Hakone 195413) Bijyutukai Japanese Design Color Woodblock Print Book 34 Katharine Jowett- Signed Chinese Woodblock Print City Gate Peking Beijing ChinaOrig Japanese Woodblock Print Nishijima Limit# Pencil Sgn Japanese RestaurantJapanese Wood Block Print Ohara Koson Dancing Fox13) Very Rare Korin Japanese Art Design Woodblock Print Book Toshi Yoshida Japanese Woodblock Print Hyoroku Kyoto At Night 1985Japanese Woodblock Print Kobayashi Kiyochika Tokyo SnowOrig Japanese Woodblock Print Book Hokusai Manga C1816Andy Warhol Woodblock Print Rare Electric Chair 19"x13.75" Pencil Signed Mid-century 1960s Modernist Woodblock Print Winter Boats Signed Daga Ramsey YqzOrig Japanese Woodblock Print Book Early Views Bunka 3 = 1806Orig Japanese Woodblock Print 1st Edition Old Mountain Trail Masao Ido Vintage Japanese? Fish Flying Bug Insect Abstract Modern Woodblock Print SignedVintage Japanese? Seal Tusks Fly Bug Abstract Modern Woodblock Print Signed1893 Keika Hasegawa 1st Ed Japanese Wood Block Print Large Rose ChrysanthemumJapanese Woodblock Print Hasui Kawase Seven Mile Beach Twelve Landmark In JapanG029: Japanese Old Wood-block Print Low Folding Screen "japanese Map" Rare.Qi Baishi Original Woodblock Book Studio Rong Bao Zhai. 1952 (some Water Damage)13) 1813 Bunpo Gafu Ehon Japanese Woodblock Print BookToshi Yoshida - Japanese Woodblock PrintOriginal Japanese Woodblock Print, Toyohara Kunichika, Kabuki, Tattoo, Edo-1866.Toshi Yoshida Japanese Woodblock Print Seahorses And Coral 1952Original S/n Kazumi Amano Woodblock Print Japanese Sosaku Hanga 1969 HugeJapanese -ukiyoe-woodblock Print 1881.decisive Battle-samurai #1.by Chikanobu.Toshi Yoshida - Japanese Woodblock Print The Silver Pavilion 195122) Large Book Japanese Classical Pictures Woodblock Print Book Toshi Yoshida "stone Lanterns" Woodblock No ReserveGekko Ogata Mt Togakushi Ukiyo-e Antique Japanese Signed Seal Woodblock PrintOrig Japanese Woodblock Print Pencil Sign Limit# Motosugu Sugiyama Morning At WeJapanese Antique -ukiyoe-shunga.1880-1940. 6 Pictures.woodblock Print Book.Japanese -ukiyoe-woodblock Print 1881.decisive Battle-samurai #3.by Chikanobu.Orig Japanese Woodblock Print Book Swords & Ceremonial Kimono 19thcJapanese-ukiyoe-woodblock-print-1865-1930.samurai/kabuki By KunichikaKawase Hasui Antique Japanese Woodblock Pre Earthquake Snow Scene Japan Old Chiura Obata "galloping Horse" Woodblock Print Signed No Reserve1905 Japanese Full-color Woodblock Print Art Design Book Hasegawa Keika RimpaIdo, Masao Original Japanese Woodblock Print, "shimai" (sisters) 1981Orig Japanese Woodblock Print Book Atlas Of China C1700 W/ Nanking & Beijing22) Sesson Large Book Japanese Pictures Woodblock Print Book Toshi Yoshida Japanese Woodblock Print Black Panther 1987White Line Woodblock Provincetown Style Pencil Signed Edition 30 Abstract City Sabra Field Original Woodblock "moonrise, July"Carroll Thayer Berry Woodblock Print " Early Morning Rockport Maine " Wood BlockPaul Gauguin Noa Noa Wood Cut Prints Woodblock Art Painting Book CollectionJapanese -ukiyoe-woodblock Print 1881.decisive Battle-samurai #2.by Chikanobu.Antique Original Kitagawa Utamaro Ukiyo-e Rare Wood Block Print (1753 €Antique 19thc Original Japanese Woodblock Print, By Kunisada (toyokuni Iii)13) Japanese English Dictionary Woodblock Print Book Orig Japanese Woodblock Print Book Morikuni 1729