Many more people are familiar with the 1939 MGM movie The Wizard of Oz than are familiar with the source book, The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, written by Frank L. Baum and illustrated by W. W. Denslow.
Though not as iconically linked with the title as, say John Tenniel was with Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, William Wallace Denslow was the definitive illustrator for the first Oz book, and was co-owner of the copyright.
The latter fact, and Denslow’s claim on profits from a very successful stage production of the story in 1902, for which he designed sets and costumes, caused a rift between Denslow and Baum; and Baum refused to work with him thereafter.
Denslow had previously collaborated with Baum on three other children’s books.
The following series of Oz books were illustrated by John R. Neil, an excellent illustrator with a very different style. Subsequent interpretations of the books were more in keeping with Neil than Denslow.
Denslow was an editorial cartoonist, with strong political views, leading many to look for political meanings in The Wonderful Wizard of Oz (see this Wikipedia article). He was born here in Philadelphia and studied at the National Academy of Design and Cooper Institute in New York.
After his split with Baum, Denslow went on to illustrate other books with his now famous name, such as Denslow’s Mother Goose and Denslow’s Night Before Christmas, but it was royalties from the original OZ book and play that enabled him to buy an island off the coast of Bermuda and proclaim himself as its ruler, King Denslow I.
The best online source for Denslow’s Oz illustrations is the always enchanting BibliOdyssey (see my previous post on BibliOdyssey, and here), which has an article on Baum with nice large reproductions of many of the multi-color plates and monochromatic illustrations from the book (click on the illustrations in the article).
The original edition was very elaborate and stretched the book printing paradigms of the time, but the expensive printing costs apparently contributed to the book’s great success.
You can see a reproduction of the entire original edition of the book on The Library of Congress.