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    

Antique Hiroshi Yoshida Japanese Woodblock Print Ten Views Fujiyama From YoshidaRare Kawase Hasui Japanese Woodblock Print Snow At Shinkawabata 1930s - Art Deco Painting - Woodblock - Grosvenor School - Modern British1937 Antique Tsuchiya Koitsu Japanese Kofukuji Temple In Nara Woodblock Print NrNorma Bassett Hall Woodblock Print "hill Farm" Taos, New Mexico Arts Crafts Europa Regina 1594 Sebastian MÜnster Unusual Antique Original Woodblock MapEuropean Sailing Ship 1550 Sebastian MÜnster Unusual Antique Woodblock PlateRare Japanese Woodblock Print Of Foreigners & Ship By Yoshimori 1860 Edo Period1927 Ohara Koson Japanese Woodblock Print 5 White HeronsOgata Gekko Manga 6 Japanese Woodblock Print Book 1897 Meiji Antique Yokai GhostKuniyasu Utagawa Original 19th Century Geisha W/ Pimps Japanese Woodblock PrintElizabeth Keith (1887-1956) Thunder Threatening Soochow Woodblock Print SignedJapanese Woodblock Print, Tatsumi Shimura, BeautifulAntique Meiji 1870's Japanese Rice Paper Wood Block Print Book 50 Printed SidesYoshitoshi Japanese Woodblock PrintOriginal 19th Century Utamaro Kitagawa Woman's Hair Japanese Woodblock PrintOriginal 19th Century Utagawa Kunisada Japanese Woodblock Print Ghost Of Iwafuji Signed Original Bertha Lum Woodblock Print Copyright 1908Antique Meiji 1870's Japanese Rice Paper Woodblock Prints Book 50 Printed Sides K709: Japanese Old Wood-block Print Ukiyoe Of Kimono Woman With Lantern Design K707: Japanese Old Wood-block Print Ukiyoe Of Kimono Beauty Design 3 Ehon Taiheiki 19+20 Japanese Woodblock Print Book 1884 Antique Asia Edo SamuraiHiroshi Yoshida Japanese Woodblock Print - Sacred Bridge - 1933 Jizuri Seal K705: Japanese Old Wood-block Print Ukiyoe Of Kabuki Design 2 Margaret Preston Print Woodblock ‘gum Blossoms’ 1928 #10910 K710: Japanese Old Wood-block Print Ukiyoe Of Kimono Beauty Design 4 Japanese Woodblock Print, Torii Kotondo, Girl With Umbrella, BeautifulChikanobu Japanese Woodblock PrintOrig Japanese Woodblock Print Book Catalog Of Kimono Designs C1690Katsushika Hokusai Manga 7 Japanese Woodblock Print Book Ukiyoe Limited Edition K711: Japanese Old Wood-block Print Ukiyoe Of Party With Foreigners Design 1Japanese Woodblock Print, Torii Kotondo, Girl In Pink/purple Kimono, BeautifulJapanese Woodblock Print, Torii Kotondo, Girl With Fan, BeautifulOrig Japanese Woodblock Print Map Of Tokyo W/ Yokohama & Train (meiji 21 = 1888)Early Japanese Ukiyo-e Woodblock Vertical Print - B&w Samurai 5.25 X 25 InchesOrig Japanese Woodblock Print Atlas & Almanac W/ World Map (20 Ft Long) 1887Original 19th Century Utagawa Kunisada Diptych Japanese Woodblock Print StabKatsushika Hokusai Manga 12 Japanese Woodblock Print Book Ukiyoe Limited EditionArai Yoshimune Japanese Woodblock PrintBertha Boynton Lum Hand Colored Woodblock "snowballs" Pencil Signed, Dated 1908Lot Of 5 Illustrated Japanese Woodblock Print-ed Books 1799-1870 Novels BuddhismKatsushika Hokusai Manga 1 Japanese Woodblock Print Book Ukiyoe Limited Edition K703: Real Japanese Old Wood-block Print Ukiyoe Of Kimono Beauty Design 1Toshisen Ehon 1 Japanese Woodblock Print Book 1805 Edo Chinese Tang Poetry PoemImao Keinen Syugacho 1 Japanese Woodblock Print Book 1907 Antique Meiji SketchJapanese Woodblock Print, Torii Kotondo, Girl Applying Lipstick, Beautiful1950's Kawano Kaoru Japanese Woodblock Print Quiet Rain K714: Japanese Old Wood-block Print Ukiyoe Of Man And Woman Design K701: Japanese Old Wood-block Print Of Old Time Flyer Hikifuda 2 Rare Antique Japanese Authentic Woodblock Print Triptych A Samurai WarriorsMohitsuga Tehon Japanese Woodblock Print Book Bird Flower Insect Dragon Fish ArtJapanese Woodblock Print, Torii Kotondo, Kneeling Nude, BeautifulEarly Japanese Ukiyo-e Woodblock Print - Fisherman And Waves -10 X 14.5 InchesOriginal Utagawa Kunisada Ii Japanese Ukiyo-e Woodblock Print Kabuki Actors K713: Japanese Old Wood-block Print Ukiyoe Of Samurai Traveler Design Listed William Howe Foote Woodcut Birch Trees Woodblock Old Lyme Ct ConnecticutJapanese Woodblock Print, Hiroshige K712: Japanese Old Wood-block Print Ukiyoe Of Party With Foreigners Design 2Original Utagawa Kunichika Japanese Ukiyo-e Woodblock Print SukerokuKatsushika Hokusai Manga 15 Japanese Woodblock Print Book Ukiyoe Limited Edition