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Devoted Following for David Levine’s Caricatures and Paintings

David Levine, the caricaturist and painter, who died on Dec. 29 at the age of 83, created more than 3,800 caricatures of political, literary and other cultural figures, primarily to accompany reviews and articles in The New York Review of Books, over the course of his career.

NEW YORK—David Levine, the caricaturist and painter, who died on Dec. 29 at the age of 83, created more than 3,800 caricatures of political, literary and other cultural figures, primarily to accompany reviews and articles in The New York Review of Books, over the course of his career. His work also appeared in Esquire, Time, The Nation, The New York Times, The New Yorker and other periodicals. He had two distinct groups of buyers for his work, according to Robert Fishko, director of New York’s Forum Gallery, which has represented the artist’s work since the mid-1960s.

“The buyers of his paintings are largely not collectors of his caricatures,” Fishko said. “Perhaps there is a New York–centric quality to these collectors, although David’s work has been appreciated and exhibited and purchased all over the world.”

According to Fishko, Levine’s caricatures currently sell for $6,000 apiece. The gallery’s most recent exhibition of Levine’s caricatures was in the fall of 2008, a 50-work show titled “American Presidents & Selected Paintings, 1966–2008.” It included a 2006 drawing of then senator Barack Obama, which sold for $6,000.

Prices for all of the artist’s work have remained “relatively consistent” over the past several years, Fishko said. Along with private collectors, a number of institutions have acquired Levine’s caricatures and paintings, among them the Metropolitan Muse­um of Art, New York; the National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian Institution, Washington, D.C.; the National Portrait Gallery, London; the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, Washington, D.C., and the Brooklyn Museum.

Levine was also a prolific watercolor painter, producing “one oil for every eight or 10 watercolors,” Fishko noted. Prices for watercolors range from $8,000 to $50,000, according to size and subject matter. The oils are generally larger, and are priced at $15,000/80,000, again according to size and subject. Forum Gallery reported that its highest price for an oil was $125,000, paid in 2005 for The Front, 2000–3, which measures 42 by 80 inches. Levine’s paintings are mostly landscapes or seascapes, and depict ordinary people in everyday scenes, enjoying the amusements of Coney Island, for example.

Levine’s work has come up at auction from time to time: A 1972 pen-and-ink caricature of Richard Avedon sold at Sotheby’s in 2005 for $5,100 (estimate: $1,500/2,500), and a watercolor, Blue Blouse, 1978, sold at Christie’s in 1986 for $4,620 (estimate: $3,000/5,000).

In association with the Century Association, New York, a private arts club, Forum has planned an exhibition of Levine’s work for this March, which is to be held at both the Century Club building on Manhattan’s West 43rd Street and the Forum gallery. —D.G.

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