Lines and Colors art blog

W. W. Denslow

W.W. Denslow, The Wonderful Wizard of Oz
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.


11 responses to “W. W. Denslow”

  1. Great article! I think Denslow was one of the best American illustrators who influenced other great artists such as Dr. Seuss.

  2. Sherrie McGill Avatar
    Sherrie McGill

    I’m researching W.W. Denslows family. Specifically, I have a first edition of his book “Billy Bounce”. There is a gift inscription written in cursive from “Uncle Will”, dated 12/25/07. So I’m trying to see if his sister Ethel(aka. Leda) had a son?

    I have no clue if Denslow ever signed anything like this, but the possibility exists, and I didn’t want to sell the book without first determining if this could have been presented by Denslow himself.

    If you, or anyone who reads this has any knowledge that could help, I’d be ever so grateful! My email is

    S. McGill

  3. In Greene and Hearn’s biography “WW Denslow” (1976), Denslow’s niece Patricia Denslow Eykyn refers to him as “Uncle Wally”. So I’m guessing your “Uncle Will” is just a coincidence, sorry!

  4. Hello, I am a one of Denslow’s eleven great-grandchildren….(I can prove this..I’m not a Troll). My grand mother Anna Marie Denslow-Sesso was the daughter of his only Son. He did have a brother and two sisters. One sister died as a child. The other died as a young woman…who never married I think.

    1. Wonderful. Hopefully you grew up surrounded by his books!

  5. Oh yeah, we were no strangers to them…especially OZ. I remember when I was 12, my maiden aunt Nancy (my mom’s sister) gave me a seashores broach for christmas….I thank you…and she told me “Your great-great grandfather used to sign all of his art with a seahorse.” I didn’t notice it before…so I took out the OZ book I had…found a drawing of his…and there it was! I wonder why he liked seahorses so much…maybe it was just his gimmick. I did not inheret unfortunately…I can’t draw so much as a stick figure…but my eldest sister did and she now teaches art at Girade College in philadelphia…and my youngest brother Anthony did….he’s now a graphic designer…and my daughter did (she’s 9), she could draw 3-d figures before the age of 6 and now receives art awards at school. All 3 of them love to tease me about my “art skills”…so to speak…lol!

  6. I’m starting a Facebook page dedicated to him…you are all welcome to view it if you like.

    Here is the link if you are interested

    1. Thanks, Kathryn; looks like a great start.

  8. Sure…when I get around to it I’ll post the book my grandmother gave me, before she died (a reprint of the first edition)….that has her signature on it.

  9. It’s up there now, if ya wanna take a look.