Tuesday, December 29, 2009

David Levine, painter and illustrator, has died

The New York Times reports that David Levine, "a painter and illustrator whose macro-headed, somberly expressive, astringently probing and hardly ever flattering caricatures of intellectuals and athletes, politicians and potentates were the visual trademark of The New York Review of Books for nearly half a century, died Tuesday in Manhattan. He was 83 and lived in Brooklyn." The NYT article can be found here.

To fans of Louise Brooks, Levine is well remembered as the creator of an especially charming and pointed caricature of the silent film star and memoirist. He drew her for the NYRB at the time Lulu in Hollywood was published. That likeness, among Levine's finest, was reproduced countless times on the subscription cards inserted into thousands and thousands of newsstand copies of the publication. (I know I have one of those somewhere in my files. I just can't lay my hands on it right now.)

Levine's likeness of Louise Brooks was also reproduced on the cover a book of postcards of the illustrator's art which was published a few years back. That book is pictured above.

Levine's reputation is quite high. According to the write-up in the New York Times, "Mr. Levine’s drawings never seemed whimsical, like those of Al Hirschfeld. They didn’t celebrate neurotic self-consciousness, like Jules Feiffer’s. He wasn’t attracted to the macabre, the way Edward Gorey was. His work didn’t possess the arch social consciousness of Edward Sorel’s. Nor was he interested, as Roz Chast is, in the humorous absurdity of quotidian modern life. But in both style and mood, Mr. Levine was as distinct an artist and commentator as any of his well-known contemporaries. His work was not only witty but serious, not only biting but deeply informed, and artful in a painterly sense as well as a literate one. Those qualities led many to suggest that he was the heir of the 19th-century masters of the illustration, Honoré Daumier and Thomas Nast."

As a book lover and longtime reader of the New York Review of Books, I saw many of Levine's caricatures. They stood out. They were distinct. And, his caricature of Brooks is one of my favorites. I am even fortunate enough to own a signed limited edition print of the image, which I obtained from the artist. It can be seen in the image below. Brooks is just over my right shoulder, along with a few other treasures at "LBS headquarters."

Levine's death was breaking news. I expect the New York Times will run a full obituary sometime soon. That will be worth looking for.


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  2. The "New York Times" obit can be found at



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