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    

Yoshida Hiroshi Woodblock Hanga Print Signed Buenos Aires 1930s Showa No ReservKawase Hasui Japanese Woodblock Print $1 To Start Lifetime Sengakuji 6mmTadashi Nakayama Huge Orig. Signed & #'d Japanese Woodblock Print #1 No ReserveTadashi Nakayama Huge Orig. Signed & #'d Japanese Woodblock Print #2 No Reserve28) Hiroshige 55 Prints Japanese Ukiyoe Woodblock Print Book Japan 1800's Rare Kabuki Actor Ukiyo-e Woodblock Print Fan Bamboo Kunichika Yqz1930 Kawase Hasui Kuonji Temple Japanese Woodblock PrintOrig Japanese Woodblock Print Book Kimono Designs C1880Woodblock Limited Edition Print Star Lake Vermont Artist Sabra Field1893 Keika Hasegawa 1st Ed Japanese Wood Block Print Giant Red ChrysanthemumAntique 1930's Takahashi Shotei Japanese Woodblock Print Mt. Fuji View Orig RareJapanese -ukiyoe-woodblock Print 1889. Water Fall/samurai/dragon By KunichikaAntique 1890s Chikanobu Japanese Diptych Woodblock Print Messanger Lady Naginata1893 Keika Hasegawa 1st Ed Japanese Wood Block Print Pink ChrysanthemumUtamaro Japanese Woodblock Print $1 To Start Very RareC1847 Original Japanese Woodblock Print, Kuniyoshi (1797-1861), Kabuki ActorsOrig Japanese Woodblock Print Book Hokusai Tenpo 7 = 1836Antique Japanese Woodblock Print Hiroshi Yoshida Kyoto At Night Pencil SignedPortfolio 5 Collectible Japanese Shunga Erotic Woodblock Ukiyo-e Prints Japan28) 1863 Thick Book !! Japanese Encyclopedia Woodblock Print Koria Map 1893 Keika Hasegawa 1st Ed Japanese Wood Block Print Red & Yellow ChrysanthemumBairei Hyakucho Gafu Japanese Woodblock Print Book Birds Kachoga Meiji 1884 *25Toshi Yoshida - Japanese Woodblock PrintSuperb Antique 19thc Original Japanese Ehon Woodblock Print Book, Utoyo-eOrig Japanese Woodblock Print Book Sukenobu Ehon Fude No Umi C1730Vintage Kaoru Kawano Japanese Modernist Woodblock Print, Buddha W/ FlowerAntique 1900's Masayoshi Kitao "hanaogi" Japanese Woodblock Print Old!Hiroshige Original Japanese Woodblock Print $1 To Start 36 Views Mt FujiSigned 1966 Mid-century Modern Japanese Crane Woodblock Print Euc25) Japanese Flower Ehon Woodblock Print 4 Book S 1893 Keika Hasegawa 1st Ed Japanese Wood Block Print Red Pink ChrysanthemumJapanese -ukiyoe-woodblock Print 1889. Kabukimono Samurai By Kunichika22) Japanese Ogura Poems Ukiyoe Ehon Woodblock Print BookKawase Hasui - Japanese Woodblock PrintJapanese -ukiyoe-woodblock Print 1879.chushingura-sunrise. By Kunisada13) Japanese Travel Long Map Woodblock Print Book Unusual Double-sided, Antique Japanese Woodblock Prints Of Beautiful Ladies1893 Keika Hasegawa 1st Ed Japanese Wood Block Print 2 White ChrysanthemumsToshi Yoshida Japanese Woodblock Print Tenryu River * Professionally Framed13) Hiroshige Edo Ukiyoe Japanese Woodblock Print Book 717) Japanese Flower Picture Woodblock Print Book 13) Yoshitoshi Ukiyoe Japanese Woodblock Print 3 Book S 1893 Keika Hasegawa 1st Ed Japanese Wood Block Print Pink FlowerJapanese Antique 137 Yr Old Kunichika Original Samurai Kabuki Wood Block PrintOld Samurai Swords Japanese Woodblock Print Books 9 Vol Set Koto Edo 1792 *16Shiko Munakata Original Japanese Woodblock Print $1 To Start ChisatsuSet Of 3 Vintage Japanese Woodblock Prints In Gilt Faux Bamboo Frames-ex! Nr!1893 Keika Hasegawa 1st Ed Japanese Wood Block Print Yellow FlowerAntique 1800s Morikawa Chikashige Triptych Japanese Woodblock Print Kabuki Actor22) Japanese Antique Pictures Woodblock Print 2 Book S KiteJapanese -ukiyoe-woodblock Print 1879.chushingura-feudal Lord. By KunisadaWatanabe Kazan Surimono Japanese Woodblock Print $1 To Start Very RareJapanese -ukiyoe-woodblock Print 1860-1900.doll Maker&samurai Signed By Toyokuni13) Two Volumes Japanese Ukiyoe Woodblock Print Book Warabe10 Japanese -ukiyoe-woodblock Print 1879.chushingura-twin Samurai. By KunisadaAntique 1900's Toshikata Mizuno Japanese Woodblock Print Beauty Snowy GardenOrig Japanese Woodblock Print Map Of Japan, Korea, Sakhalin, Ezo, Edo 1804Japanese -ukiyoe-woodblock Print 1880-1920. Samurai Edo Sights #2. By KunichikaHideyoshi Story #4 Japanese Woodblock Print 5 Books Kuniyoshi Harakiri Edo *13Mid Century Japan Ukiyo-e Woodblock "shinto Religious Dance" By Kiyoshi Nagai!