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    

Japanese Kiyoshi Saito (1907-1997) Woodblock Print - Aizu In Snow (two Skiers)Hiroshi Yoshida Japanese Woodblock Print Chionin Temple Jizuri Seal $0.99 StartJapanese Woodblock Print : Keisai Eisen "ukiyoe Beauty" @s214Koitsu Ishiwata Japanese Woodblock Print - Yamadera In RainWow!! Vintage Paul Jacoulet Woodblock Print French Japanese No Reserve!!Koitsu Japanese Woodblock Print - Hakozaki Hachimangu Temple Woodblock Print 5pcs : Utagawa Hiroshige "53 Stations Of Tokaido" W/box @z2651903 Birds & Flowers Japanese Woodblock Printed Picture Book Watanabe SeiteiLarge Antique Japanese Wood Block Print Geisha Important Women With Attendants Edo Period Japanese Saigyo Hoshi Ichi Daiki Japan Woodblock Costumes ArcheryOriginal Japanese Woodblock Print Bytakahashi Shotei "junks In Inatori Bay Izu"Toshi Yoshida Japanese Woodblock Print From Ryogoku Bridge Pencil Signed1-16 Bairei Bird Japanese Ehon Woodblock Print Book Tyen1-18 Ko-rin Japanese Art Design Woodblock Print Book Seiei1-6 Japanese Design Color Woodblock Print Book Bijyutu1Orig Japanese Woodblock Print Fan Print Shunsho (1726-1793)Ohara Koson Original Japanese Woodblock Print -evening Sailboats-3-35 Big Book Japanese Kimono Woodblock Print Book Tennen2Chinese Woodblock Printed Books Of Ancient Teachings Or Poems Stamps Victoria - 2 Shillings Woodblock Imperf - Large Margins.Three Original Color Woodblock Prints By Leo F. Dorn, Pencil Signed And FramedChirimen-gami-e Woodblock Fish And Shell Fish Unidentified Artist C1860Orig Japanese Woodblock Print Scroll (5 Triptychs = 15 Prints) Chikanobu C1890Shiro Kasamatsu Rare Original Japanese Woodblock Print Sacred Bridge Nikko 1942A980: Pair Of Japanese Old Wood-block Print Kabuki Actor By Sadahiro Utagawa.Japanese Ukiyoe Woodblock Print 3 Full Triptych Set Revenge Sign ToyokuniOriginal Signed Woodblock -print By Naoko Matsubara (b. 1937) "weeping Beech"1-6 Japanese Kimono Cloth Design Woodblock Print Book Kyuko1-12 Japanese Fun Picture Woodblock Print Book Hyakusen2-38 Japanese Wrapping Paper 100 Prints Woodblock Print Book Makimono10-262 Rare Issui Design Japanese Woodblock Print 3 Book Zuan1-8 Japanese Flower Guide Woodblock Print Book NoyamaSamurai By Eisen Japanese Woodblock Print Book Ukiyoe Kintaro Musha 1840s Edo*271920's Southwest Woodblock - Norma Van Swearingen - Pencil SignedJapanese Woodblock Print Of Samurai Archer 1860 Edo Period1990 1st Ed. Modern Japanese Woodblock Prints, The Early Years Uh Press, HawaiiOrig Japanese Woodblock Print Book Set (2 Vols) ShunchoVintage Eiichi Kotozuka Bamboo Japanese Woodblock PrintEdo Tokugawa Ukiyo-e Book Woodblock Prints Manga Mangwa Circle Toyokuni (16) YqzOrig Japanese Woodblock Print Set (6 Prints) Zoetrope Optical ToyOrig Japanese Woodblock Print Book Set (2 Vols) Kunisada (kaei 3) = 1850 #13-35 Big Book Japanese Kimono Woodblock Print Book Tennen3Orig Japanese Woodblock Print Hiroshige 53 Stations Of The Tokaido Road C1850Japanese Ukiyoe Woodblock Print 3 Full Triptich Set Benisarakakesa Sign ToyokuniChinese Poetry W/ Illust Japanese Woodblock Print 5 Books Set China 1791 Edo *28Picture Book By Hanzan Japanese Woodblock Print Book Bird Animal 1877 Meiji *25Kuniyoshi School Japanese Woodblock Print 3 Books Utagawa Yoshitora Ukiyoe *261-10 Japanese Ehon Woodblock Print Book MoukyouAsahi Masahide - Original 1952 Japanese Woodblock PrintOrig Japanese Woodblock Print Map Of Tokyo W/ Yokohama Meiji 21 = 1888Nwt Lucky Brand Plus Size 1x Dasha Woodblock TopJapanese Woodblock Print Ukiyoe Kabuki Actor Picture Kunichika Ichikawa FishJapanese Ukiyoe Woodblock Print 3 Full Coplete Set Rowboat&thief Sign ToyokuniTokaido & Nakasendo Stations View Japanese Woodblock Print Book Map 1807 Edo *24Orig Japanese Woodblock Print Book English Japanese Dictionary Meiji 4 = 18712-35 Two Prints Japanese Kuchie Ukiyoe Woodblock Print Book Hinode HoraiBukan Japanese Woodblock Print Book Samurai Family Crest Tokugawa 1864 Edo *22Greene - Golden-crowned Parrakeet - 1884 Parrots In Captivity Woodblock1-8 Very Rare Kuniyoshi Japanese Ukiyoe Woodblock Print Book FuzokuJapanese Woodblock Print Book Calligraphy 1000 Character Classic Set 2 Meiji