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David Levine, New York Review caricaturist

David Levine, above on the beach at Coney Island, contributed more than 3,800 drawings to The New York Review of Books. David Levine, above on the beach at Coney Island, contributed more than 3,800 drawings to The New York Review of Books. (Forum Gallery, New York)
By Karen Matthews
Associated Press / December 30, 2009

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NEW YORK - David Levine, an artist whose witty caricatures illustrated The New York Review of Books for more than 40 years, has died. He was 83.

Mr. Levine died of prostate cancer and complications of other ailments yesterday at New York Presbyterian Hospital in Manhattan. His death was confirmed by Robert Silvers, editor of The New York Review, who called Mr. Levine “the greatest caricaturist of his time.’’

Mr. Levine’s drawings of politicians, celebrities, writers, and historical figures typically had large heads and exaggerated features: Albert Einstein with a nimbus of hair, Richard Nixon all 5 o’clock shadow and ski-slope nose. 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, Mr. Levine contributed more than 3,800 drawings to the Review, which has continued to illustrate its articles with his old drawings.

Mr. Levine’s work also appeared in Esquire, The New York Times, The Washington Post, Rolling Stone, Sports Illustrated, and The New Yorker, among other publications.

Silvers said Mr. Levine would read the article he was illustrating with great attention and then “a drawing would emerge.’’

“He brought to the caricature a brilliance and a depth and an insight into character that was unmatched,’’ Silvers said.

Mr. Levine also exhibited paintings, many depicting New York scenes such as Coney Island.

His work is in the permanent collections of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Library of Congress, and the National Portrait Gallery in Britain, among other institutions.

John Updike, who was drawn several times by Mr. Levine, once called the artist “one of America’s assets.’’

“In a confusing time, he bears witness,’’ Updike said. “In a shoddy time, he does good work.’’

Mr. Levine was born in Brooklyn in 1926 and studied at the Brooklyn Museum of Art School, the Pratt Institute, Temple University’s Tyler School of Art, and the Eighth Street School of New York.

He leaves his wife, Kathy Hayes; two children from a previous marriage, Matthew of Westport, Conn., and Eve of Manhattan; two stepchildren, Nancy Rommelmann of Portland, Ore., and Christopher Rommelmann of Brooklyn; a grandson; and a stepgranddaughter.