David Levine, R.I.P.
January 1, 2010 9:08 PM   Subscribe

David Levine, beloved caricaturist for several publications, but most notably for the New York Review of Books, died last Tuesday at age 83 due to complications of prostate cancer. Since 1963, he contributed over 3,800 caricatures for the magazine, which prominently featured his drawings in promotional material. You can look at over 2,500 of his drawings here, review his website featuring his painting here, and see him interviewed here. Toward the end of his life, his vision failed due to macular degeneration and his relationship with the magazine became somewhat strained. Upon his death, the magazine noted that he was, simply, "the greatest caricaturist of his time."

Everyone has his or her favorites; mine include:
U.S. Presidents
posted by pasici (24 comments total) 11 users marked this as a favorite
I was about to write a post on this. Thanks for putting it together so well.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 9:15 PM on January 1, 2010

I did not know the backstory about the NYRB. Thanks.

Of course I cannot see any of his cartoons without hearing Sideshow Bob saying "you don't have to be able to read to enjoy the Springfield Review of Books. Just look at these amusing caricatures of Gore Vidal and Susan Sontag."
posted by shothotbot at 9:32 PM on January 1, 2010

Yeah, his Barack Obama from late 2006 shows things gone quite bad. Compare with the Bush from 2000 or Clinton from 92.
posted by dgaicun at 10:13 PM on January 1, 2010


Why is Jefferson Davis on the gallery page for "Presidents of the United States and Spouses"?
posted by ocherdraco at 10:20 PM on January 1, 2010


NYRB will still be wonderful without him, but it won't be the same and I'll miss what's gone.
posted by freebird at 10:43 PM on January 1, 2010

actually the obama is a bit prescient
posted by phoffmann at 10:45 PM on January 1, 2010 [1 favorite]

I always admired Levine's work. I remember it from Esquire, in particular. He was a master of cross-hatching. You gotta love LBJ's Vietnam scar.
posted by weapons-grade pandemonium at 10:51 PM on January 1, 2010

I really like Levine's work and I wish his life could have ended in an atmosphere of joyous fame, but instead... well, an artist going blind is not a joyful topic. And the bickering about payment from the NYReview exacerbated by well-meaning friends and Levine's own neuroses was just wretched. The man could have used a decent agent, except that he couldn't bring himself to ever take one on. I read the Vanity Fair article when it first came out and was struck by its underlying glee at being able, for once, to feel superior to the NYRB -- not that Vanity Fair offered Levine anything like a pension. But, anyway:

posted by CCBC at 10:53 PM on January 1, 2010

So what's the relation between the Levine Lyndon Johnson caricature and this image from MAD? Straight-up copy?
posted by kenko at 11:39 PM on January 1, 2010

(It turns out that the MAD image is from Jan '68 and the Levine caricature from May '66—some kind of delay!)
posted by kenko at 11:48 PM on January 1, 2010

This has put to rest one of my longstanding ambitions: to be drawn by Mr. Levine. It's unimaginable that the next generation of artists and politicians won't be so lovingly cross-hatched. But they won't. Which sucks. So:

posted by festivemanb at 12:06 AM on January 2, 2010 [1 favorite]

posted by jabo at 12:56 AM on January 2, 2010

posted by Obscure Reference at 5:11 AM on January 2, 2010

Please, lest we forget: the most revealing portrait of Henry Kissinger ever created.

This has put to rest one of my longstanding ambitions: to be drawn by Mr. Levine.

Back when I was a somewhat pretentious but nonetheless sincere youth and aspired to be a public intellectual along Sontagian or Vidalian lines, I saw the Levine portraits as a kind of induction into a certain kind of American royalty.

posted by foxy_hedgehog at 5:13 AM on January 2, 2010 [2 favorites]

posted by WPW at 5:44 AM on January 2, 2010

He's a great artist, growing old, who isn't as fabulously wealthy as we imagine someone whose work is so brilliant and ubiquitous ought to be. But this is hardly a tragic tale. The Vanity Fair story gets it right: he's a nice, talented man with a lot of silly left wing ideas, dealing with a magazine founded and run by intellectuals who are more comfortable with ideas than actual people, and everybody's kind of half-embarrassed and repressed and nobody's expressing their feelings, and its just the inevitable playing out of the the last act of the artist's life. Illustration is not a lucrative field for anyone. The article doesn't say that Levine's getting ripped off. It's absurd to think that he should have a "piece" of the NYRB. He's got a gallery and he's got an agent. His son is taking care of his rights. The man is doing well, compared to most illustrators his age (I know some). We're just dealing with the same issues of pride, physical decline, and retirement financing issues that anyone who lives that long will have to deal with eventually. Even you.
posted by Faze at 6:06 AM on January 2, 2010 [1 favorite]

Why is Jefferson Davis on the gallery page for "Presidents of the United States and Spouses"?

Maybe because they couldn't find room to fit him in the Religious Figures gallery?
posted by IAmBroom at 7:13 AM on January 2, 2010

I like the New York Review of Books but I don't like caricatures and I always found most of his kind of embarrassing to look at, for some reason.
posted by not that girl at 7:28 AM on January 2, 2010

posted by Joe Beese at 7:50 AM on January 2, 2010

When it comes to densely-hatched caricatures from the New York publishing industry I was always more a fan of Sorel's kinetic ballpoint scrawls than Levine's meticulous hatching. But.

posted by egypturnash at 8:44 AM on January 2, 2010

Sorel has too much of a wild, all-over texture. His caricatures are unfocused. You never know where to look first in a Sorel illustration. Levine's caricatures (in his heyday) guided your eye directly to the character-revealing feature, the mendacious nose, saggy too-knowing eyes, or otherwordly forehead that told you everything you needed know about the individual being portrayed. The crisp cross-hatching was part of his pictorial strategy, setting his key features in a matrix of carefully graded light and shadow.
posted by Faze at 9:00 AM on January 2, 2010 [1 favorite]

A great artist who deserved better in his last years. Thanks for an excellent post.
posted by languagehat at 11:30 AM on January 2, 2010

posted by bread-eater at 12:27 PM on January 2, 2010

Not only a fine caricaturist, but a surprisingly good painter.

posted by Bron at 1:35 PM on January 2, 2010

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