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David Levine, illustrator for New York Review of Books (Updated)

December 29, 2009 | 12:38 pm


David Levine, an artist and caricaturist whose work illustrated the New York Review of Books for more than 40 years, died today. He was 83.

New York Review editor Robert Silvers confirmed Levine's death. Levine died at New York Presbyterian Hospital in Manhattan of prostate cancer and complications from other ailments.

His drawings of politicians, celebrities, writers and historical figures typically had large heads and exaggerated features. See a gallery of Levine's caricatures here.

In one well-known image from 1966, President Lyndon B. Johnson pulls up his shirt to reveal the scar from his gallbladder operation, shaped like the map of Vietnam.

In addition to the New York Review of Books starting in 1963, Levine’s work appeared in Esquire, the New York Times, the Washington Post, Rolling Stone, the New Yorker and other publications.

[Updated at 1:05 p.m.: Levine’s drawings -- Albert Einstein with a nimbus of hair; Richard Nixon, all 5 o’clock shadow and ski-slope nose -- 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 Levine was diagnosed with the eye disease macular degeneration in 2006, the artist contributed more than 3,800 drawings to the Review, which has continued to illustrate its articles with old Levine drawings.

Silvers, who called Levine "the greatest caricaturist of his time," said the artist 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.

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 England’s National Portrait Gallery, among other institutions.

John Updike, who was drawn several times by Levine, once called the artist "one of America’s assets. In a confusing time, he bears witness. In a shoddy time, he does good work."

Levine was born in Brooklyn in 1926 and studied at schools including the Brooklyn Museum of Art School, the Pratt Institute and Temple University’s Tyler School of Art.

He is survived by his wife, Kathy Hayes; son Matthew, of Westport, Conn.; daughter Eve, of Manhattan; stepdaughter Nancy Rommelmann, of Portland, Ore.; stepson Christopher Rommelmann, of Brooklyn; and two grandchildren.]

-- Associated Press

Photo: An illustration of caricaturist David Levine. Credit: Roman Genn / For The Times