Portrait of Nance O'Neil dressed in black
Nance O'Neil was called the American Bernhardt, playing significant roles such as Lady Macbeth and Camille. She moved from theatre to silent film in 1915 after signing with William Fox. She was overshadowed by Fox's other star Theda Bara and returned to the theater in 1918. Nance came back to talking films around 1929 and appeared in several early sound pictures. She has been quoted saying that "tradition has made women cowardly". In this portrait O'Neil is posed standing with a frontal view. O'Neil's countenance appears critical and pensive, as she directs her gaze away from the camera and looks upward. The right side of O'Neil's face is cloaked in shadows, giving the model an air of authority. O'Neil is attired in a dark garment that engulfs her body and neck. Her only apparent accessories are a dark cap and a lone hoop earring. The background is a mixture of dark and shadows, providing an atmosphere of mystery.