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    

Hiroshi Yoshida Japanese Woodblock Print Chionin Temple Jizuri Seal $0.99 StartJapanese Kiyoshi Saito (1907-1997) Woodblock Print - Aizu In Snow (two Skiers)Woodblock Print 5pcs : Utagawa Hiroshige "53 Stations Of Tokaido" W/box @z2651937 Signed Japanese Hiroshi Yoshida A Glimpse Of Ueno Park Woodblock Print Art1935 Signed Japanese Hiroshi Yoshida The Cherry Tree In Kawagoe Woodblock PrintKoitsu Ishiwata Japanese Woodblock Print - Yamadera In RainWow!! Vintage Paul Jacoulet Woodblock Print French Japanese No Reserve!!1903 Birds & Flowers Japanese Woodblock Printed Picture Book Watanabe Seitei1937 Signed Japanese Hiroshi Yoshida Toshogu Shrine Woodblock Print Wood BlockKoitsu Japanese Woodblock Print - Hakozaki Hachimangu Temple 1-16 Bairei Bird Japanese Ehon Woodblock Print Book TyenEdo Period Japanese Saigyo Hoshi Ichi Daiki Japan Woodblock Costumes ArcheryLarge Antique Japanese Wood Block Print Geisha Important Women With Attendants Toshi Yoshida Japanese Woodblock Print From Ryogoku Bridge Pencil SignedFine Signed Japan Japanese Kiyoshi Saito Maiko Woodblock Wood Block Print ArtOriginal Japanese Woodblock Print Bytakahashi Shotei "junks In Inatori Bay Izu"Japanese Wood Block Print Early 1900's Night Scene Boat On Lake Flaming LanternsToshi Yoshida (japanese 1911-1995) Woodblock Print - "bamboo Garden" - Signed1-18 Ko-rin Japanese Art Design Woodblock Print Book SeieiHiroshi Yoshida Japanese Woodblock Print Toshogu Shrine Of Nikko Original 19371-6 Japanese Design Color Woodblock Print Book Bijyutu13-35 Big Book Japanese Kimono Woodblock Print Book Tennen2Japanese Woodblock Print, Ito Shinsui, Girl Bathing, Large, GorgeousOrig Japanese Woodblock Print Scroll (5 Triptychs = 15 Prints) Chikanobu C1890Chinese Woodblock Printed Books Of Ancient Teachings Or Poems Orig Japanese Woodblock Print Fan Print Shunsho (1726-1793)Kitao Masayoshi Japanese Woodblock Print Picture Book Color Ukiyoe C1840 Edo *20Haku Maki Poem 69-14 Woodblock Print Signed Limited Japanese Mid Century ModernSabra Field Woodblock Print -"tomatoes" - #128/300 - Pencil Signed Beautiful ! Ohara Koson Original Japanese Woodblock Print -evening Sailboats-Japanese Woodblock Print Of Samurai Archer 1860 Edo PeriodChirimen-gami-e Woodblock Fish And Shell Fish Unidentified Artist C1860A980: Pair Of Japanese Old Wood-block Print Kabuki Actor By Sadahiro Utagawa.Orig Japanese Woodblock Print Set (6 Prints) Zoetrope Optical ToyShiro Kasamatsu Rare Original Japanese Woodblock Print Sacred Bridge Nikko 19421-8 Japanese Flower Guide Woodblock Print Book NoyamaHiroshi Yoshida "avenue Of Cherry Trees" Original "jizuri" Woodblock PrintAntique Kono Bairei Japanese Woodblock Print Book Fold-outOrig Japanese Woodblock Print Book Set (2 Vols) Shuncho1-6 Japanese Kimono Cloth Design Woodblock Print Book Kyuko3-35 Big Book Japanese Kimono Woodblock Print Book Tennen3Picture Book By Hanzan Japanese Woodblock Print Book Bird Animal 1877 Meiji *2510-262 Rare Issui Design Japanese Woodblock Print 3 Book ZuanSamurai By Eisen Japanese Woodblock Print Book Ukiyoe Kintaro Musha 1840s Edo*272-26 Hokusai Ukiyoe Chinese Poems Japanese Woodblock Print Book TosisenOrig Japanese Woodblock Print Map Of Tokyo W/ Yokohama Meiji 21 = 18881-12 Japanese Fun Picture Woodblock Print Book HyakusenChinese Poetry W/ Illust Japanese Woodblock Print 5 Books Set China 1791 Edo *28Orig Japanese Woodblock Print Book Set (2 Vols) Kunisada (kaei 3) = 1850 #1Japanese Ukiyoe Woodblock Print 3 Full Triptych Set Revenge Sign ToyokuniOrig Japanese Woodblock Print Book Shunsho Fan Prints (1726-1793) #2Orig Japanese Woodblock Print Book Shunsho Fan Prints (1726-1793) #3Chinese Poetry W/ Illust Japanese Woodblock Print 4 Books Landscape 1790 Edo *292-38 Japanese Wrapping Paper 100 Prints Woodblock Print Book MakimonoKuniyoshi School Japanese Woodblock Print 3 Books Utagawa Yoshitora Ukiyoe *26Orig Japanese Woodblock Print Book English Japanese Dictionary Meiji 4 = 1871Vintage Wfl Drum Co. Holder W/ Cowbell & Woodblock1-8 Very Rare Kuniyoshi Japanese Ukiyoe Woodblock Print Book FuzokuOrig Japanese Woodblock Print Book Shunsho Fan Prints (1726-1793) #1Ukiyo-e Japanese Woodblock Print "utamaro" Aa -14 3 Sheets Set