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Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Caricaturist David Levine Dies at 83; Had Westport Ties

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Caricaturist David Levine, best known for his work published in The New York Review of Books and whose output has been coordinated by his son from his Compo Beach-area home in Westport, died today. He was Image
David Levine in a photo from a Web site coordinated by his son, Matthew, a Westport resident and artist who, like his father, has painted many Westport scenes. (CLICK TO ENLARGE) photo

Levine died at New York Presbyterian Hospital in Manhattan of prostate cancer and complications from other ailments, according to Robert Silvers, editor of The New York Review. He called Levine “the greatest caricaturist of his time.”

Levine, who also painted numerous watercolors of Westport scenes, was known for his drawings of politicians, celebrities, writers and historical figures that typically had large heads and exaggerated features. In one well-known image from 1966, President Lyndon B. Johnson pulls up his shirt to reveal a gallbladder-operation scar shaped like the map of Vietnam.

The drawings defined the look of The New York Review, which sold them on calendars and T-shirts.

From a few months after it began publishing in 1963 until he was diagnosed with the eye disease macular degeneration in 2006, Levine contributed more than 3,800 drawings to the Review, which has continued to illustrate its articles with old Levine drawings.

Levine’s work also appeared in Esquire, The New York Times, The Washington Post, Rolling Stone, Sports Illustrated and The New Yorker, among other Image
Among David Levine’s most famous images was that of President Lyndon B. Johnson pulling up his shirt to reveal that the scar from his gallbladder operation was in the precise shape of the boundaries of Vietnam. (CLICK TO ENLARGE) Courtesy of David Levine and Forum Gallery, New York.

He is survived by his wife, Kathy Hayes; two children from a previous marriage, Matthew, also an artist, of Westport, and Eve, of Manhattan; two stepchildren, Nancy Rommelmann, of Portland, Ore., and Christopher Rommelmann, of Brooklyn; a grandson; and a stepgranddaughter.

Matthew Levine has been painting Westport-Compo landscapes for 20 years. He studied watercolor and oil painting with his father and with Aaron Shikler, Daniel Schwartz, Burt Silverman and Harvey Dinnerstein.

His portrait of Supreme Court Justice Sandra O’Connor appeared in The National Portrait Gallery, as part of a group show featured in the HBO documentary “Portraits of A Lady.” His work has been shown at The Rowayton Art Center, at Picture This in Westport, and other galleries in Connecticut.

About David Levine (from

Thousands of caricatures and hundreds of oil and watercolor paintings have flowed from David Levine’s mind and hands, his pencils, pens and brushes for more than 50 years.

Born in Brooklyn, N.Y., in 1926, Levine was trained by his parents to question authority and to love the underdog. He learned from professors and colleagues at the Tyler School of Art in Philadelphia to extract technique and theory from artists throughout history.

The result: For decades he’s been acknowledged worldwide as the most devastatingly insightful caricaturist since Daumier. His examinations of human flaws and foibles express a central passion. “I love my species,” says Levine.

According to John Updike: “Besides offering us the delight of recognition, his drawings comfort us, in an exacerbated and potentially desperate age, with the sense of a watching presence, an eye informed by an intelligence that has not panicked […]. Levine is one of America’s assets. In a confusing time, he bears witness. In a shoddy time, he does good work.” Image
“Fourth at Compo” is one of seven Westport scenes featured on David Levine’s Web site as available for sale in a giclee print of an original watercolor painting. Courtesy of

“The paintings of David Levine are never bombastic,” says Pete Hamill. “They are seldom only about the thing or the place to the people directly observed. They are also about the unseen world that they suggest, a world of time and nostalgia, of things and people lost. If David Levine was a writer he would be Chekhov.”

Levine studied at the Brooklyn Museum of Art School, Pratt Institute, the Tyler School of Art at Temple University in Philadelphia and the Eighth Street School of New York with Hans Hoffman.

His many awards include the Louis Comfort Tiffany Foundation Award in 1955 and, later, the Isaac Maynard, Julius Hallgarten and Thomas B. Clarke awards (all from the National Academy of Design), the George Polk Memorial Award, a Guggenheim Fellowship, the Childe Hassam Purchase Prize (American Academy of Arts and Letters), the John Pike Memorial Prize and the Gold Medal of the American Academy and Institute of Arts and Letters in 1993.

Internationally, David Levine has received the French Legion of Honor award and the Thomas Nast Award in Landau, Germany.

Levine exhibited paintings with the Davis Gallery in New York from 1954 to 1963, then joined the Forum Gallery. In addition to 15 one-person exhibitions at Forum, David Levine has had exhibitions in Paris, Stuttgart, Washington, Munich, Oxford (England), Beverly Hills and Columbus, Georgia.

Levine’s caricatures have been seen in Time, Newsweek, Esquire, Playboy, The New Yorker, New York Magazine, The Nation and, for over 40 years, The New York Review of Books as well as in numerous solo and group shows.

His caricatures and paintings are part of permanent collections at the Metropolitan Museum, New York, the Library of Congress, Washington D.C., the Cleveland Museum, the National Portrait Collection, England’s National Portrait Gallery, and the Pierpont Morgan Library, New York.

Six books have been published of David Levine’s art, including “The Arts of David Levine” (Knopf, New York, 1978) and “Pens and Needles” (Gambit, Boston, 1969).

Posted 12/30/09 at 12:04 AM


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