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David Levine, master caricaturist

Posted by Dan Wasserman  October 14, 2008 03:09 PM

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The New York Times ran a piece two days ago that offers a quick gloss on political caricature, from Tina Fey's Sarah Palin back to Thomas Nast's Boss Tweed. But the must-read piece of the month is a profile of master caricaturist David Levine by David Margolick in the latest Vanity Fair. Levine is losing his sight and therefore his space in the pages of The New York Review of Books which he has enlightened and informed for four decades.

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Levine (his Nixon as Don Corleone from the Godfather shown to the right) has had many imitators over the years, but none who could match the acuity of his psychological insight or the acidity of his penmanship. His drawing of Lyndon Johnson showing his gallbladder scar in the shape of Vietnam is one of the enduring images in the history of caricature.

I had the pleasure of meeting him once when the two of us were thrown together on a television panel discussion in Montreal. After the show, we wandered over to the city's new Museum of Fine Arts where Levine graciously gave me an in-depth, two-hour tour and seminar on nineteenth-century American painting.

In person, Levine was warm, funny and unassuming. His knowledge of painting is not merely academic. He is a skilled watercolorist and has a special affinity for the seashore and, as the son of a clothier, the draped figure.

Of both his caricatures and his paintings, Levine told Margolick, I love my species. I love looking at their faces.

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Dan Wasserman has been cartooning for the Globe editorial page since 1985. He has published two collections of drawings, "We've Been Framed" (Faber & Faber, 1987) and "Paper Cuts" (Ivan R. Dee, 1995). His cartoons are widely reprinted and are syndicated internationally by Tribune Media Services. He draws more quickly than he types.
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