Rose O’Neill had already become an artist by the age fourteen. By eighteen, she moved to New York City to pursue work as an illustrator. With the income from selling illustrations for periodicals and books—including Cosmopolitan, Good Housekeeping, Harpers, Ladies' Home Journal, and Life—she helped support her large family. A 1909 set of illustrations created by O’Neill for Ladies' Home Journal inspired the Kewpie doll. She signed her artwork with the initials “C.R.O.” to hide the fact that she was a woman. The female subjects in her illustrations have been described as "refreshingly independent, able-minded, confident, modern and strong-willed,” (Bonniebrook Historical Society). "Becoming known as the “Queen of Bohemian Society,” O’Neill became a women’s rights advocate," (Rose O’Neill).
Besides illustrations, she studied sculpture with Auguste Rodin. Her sculptures and forms, which she called “Sweet Monsters,” were shown in several exhibitions in Paris and the United States (Bonniebrook Historical Society). O’Neill was influenced greatly by Irish folklore and Greek mythology, as evident in her sculpture work and the concept drawings for her sculptures (Bonniebrook Historical Society). These concept drawings are different from her illustrations, with lines imitating chisel work rather than brushwork or pencil sketch (Bonniebrook Historical Society). O’Neill’s artistic vision for her sculptures came to her on a visit to the Ozarks in 1894. She describes the trip in her autobiography, The Story of Rose O’Neill: An Autobiography:
As darkness came the woods grew wilder. The heaped rocks with twisted roots of trees made strange figures. I seemed to see primeval shapes with slanted foreheads, deep arched necks, and heaping shoulders playing on primordial flutes. I had a sort of cloudy vision of pictures I was to make long afterwards-a great female figure loomed out of the rocks holding mankind on her vast bosom. That night there came to me the title of the unborn picture, The Nursing Monster. (56–7)
O'Neill's art career gained credibility when she held three exhibitions in Paris, France (Bonniebrook Historical Society). Her art was exhibited at the Société des Beaux Attes in 1906 and 1912. In 1917, she was admitted to the all-male Society of Illustrators in New York. O'Neill showed 107 drawings and four sculptures at the Galerie Devambez and was elected to the Société Nationale des Beaux-Arts in 1921. Wildenstein Galleries held an exhibition of her paintings, drawings, and sculptures the year after her exhibition at Devambez. The catalog for this exhibition has been digitized for the Documenting the Gilded Age project (see illustrations).
—. “Rose O’Neill.” Wikipedia. Web. 23 Oct 2012. <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rose_O'Neill#Creation_of_Kewpie>
O’Neill, Rose. The Story of Rose O’Neill: An Autobiography. Columbia, MO: University of Missouri Press, 1997.