Rose Cecil O’Neill was born in Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania, to a family that was impoverished but rich in culture, owing to the fact that her father was an impractical romantic dreamer.
O’Neill was largely self-taught as an artist; she studied photographs and engravings of Renaissance art from library books and her father’s extensive library. Her career as an illustrator was launched at the age of thirteen after winning a contest sponsored by an Omaha, Nebraska, newspaper. Her richly modeled illustrations, reflecting the influence of Art Nouveau as well as the work of her contemporaries, were subsequently published over the next five decades in Life, Ladies’ Home Journal, Collier’s, and many other national magazines, although her greatest contribution was to Puck, the leading humor magazine of the time, which published over 700 of her illustrations. O’Neill’s work also graced advertisements and books. Her successful career as an illustrator was unprecedented in a male-dominated field. However, O’Neill is best known for her invention of the Kewpie, a beloved character from her illustrations, whose image was transformed into the ever-popular Kewpie doll.
National Museum of American Art (CD-ROM) (New York and Washington D.C.: MacMillan Digital in cooperation with the National Museum of American Art, 1996)