Washington art dealers have had the same complaint for years: too many artists and not enough collectors.

Though it is unlikely that there could ever be enough collectors to satisfy them, it is clear that the number of Washingtonians who do collect, either modestly or lavishly, has increased over the past decade. With inflation, collecting continues to accelerate among those who consider good art a better investment than cash.

Print collecting, in particular, has been a major force here, in part because prints cost less (or used to) than paintings, and represent a less chancy investment for beginners.

The print scene has been nurtured by a brilliant stream of graphics curators, good dealers, and the Washington Print Club, now 14 years old and 350 members strong.I can still remember a time when the print club was no more than a handful of lawyers and writers who didn't know a burin from tusche.

That the current membership knows all that and more is amply evidenced in "Collector's Choice," the Print Club's seventh biennial members exhibition now at the National Collection of Fine Arts through Nov. 19. They're buying everything from Durer, Rembrandt and Callot to Degas and Red Grooms. And with their new-found courgae, which has come with greater expertise, they've also venturing forth and buying chiaroscuro woodcuts by obscure 16th-century Italians, and lithographs by formerly obscure late 19th-century Frenchmen.

Who knew enough to buy martin Lewis 10 years ago, except a handful of experts like artist-curator Jacob Katnen? Who was buying Gerald Broackhurst, Henry Rushbury, Max Pechstein or any number of early 20th-century American printmakers like Harry Wickey, Fritz Eichenberg and Peggy Bacon? The 50 collectors in this show have come a long way in 14 years, and they've collected them all.

The bimonthly Print Club Newsletter has been full of information, reviews, hot tips and satirical morsels admirably assembled and written by the newsletter's editor Ruth Benedict, print collector and physician. Benedict has just resigned the post, which she has held since the first issue, and the newsletter will never be the same.

But the Print Club goes on, with lectures, demonstrations, panel discussions and classes on the history of the graphic arts. This year, in cooperation with the Smithsonian Associates, a course in American prints from 1870 to 1970 will be offered, with visiting scholars participating. Further information: 862-5340

The sleeper of the month is a show entitled "Art for Collectors" just opened on the first floor of the old Federal Reserve Board building on C St., between 20th and 21st St. NW. Designed to help serious and well-heeled potential collectors take that first big step, the show brings together a group of museum-quality 19th-century American, English and French paintings and watercolors currently on the market in New York galleries, all well-documented and selling for under $10,000, most of them in the $4,000 to $6,000 range.

There are well-known names like Degas, Lucien Pissarro (son of Camille), Childe Hassam and John Singer Sargent, but some equally fascinating items among these landscapes and genre scenes are by others not so widely known, including Eilshemius, who will be given his first retrospective at the Hirshhorn in November, and Elihu Vedder who will get similar treatment from the National Colection of Fine Arts this month. If money were no object, Gustave Mossa's Lautrec-like "Clowns," Walter Schofield's vigorous "Seascape", jean Georges Vibert's "Artists' Studio" and Irving Wiles' "Mother & Child at Tea" would have gone home under this viewer's arm.

While some artists have left Washington for greener pastures in New York, an increasing number of artists, many of them from New York, are living and working here.

Anyone who doubts it should have a look at the beehive of artist-propelled activity in an around the Zenith Gallery, located in a carriage house at the rear of 1441 Rhode Island Ave. NW.

Meanwhile, Zenith Gallery, which shows work from allover the country, is currently featuring two California artists.

John Kornfield's sculpture, constructed from clay, plaster and resin bond was inspired by his reading of Solrhenitsyn's "Gulag Archipelago." It manages, in the best examples, to pack an emotional wallop while sustaining great dignity and delicacy as in "The Levin Sisters Waiting Assignment." Another poignant wall-relief entitled "Gulag" cries out for an architectural setting.

Marci Clay (Kornfeld's step-daughter) at 24 has already been exhibiting for nine years, and one Ganguin-like painting, done at age 19, reveals not only her French training, but a prodigious talent.

A more recent oil, "Siesta," fulfills earlier promise in greater complexity. A family group eating and snoozing by the ocean is unaware that they have been joined by some nude figures who seem to have returned from ancient mythology via the sea. Could that be Pan eating an Orange? Is that Botticelli's "Primavera" frolicking nearby? The frequent references to other art are used constructively both here and in the captivating hand-colored etching, some inspired by life in San Francisco's North Beach, an others by domestic subjects as tender as "Morning Kiss." The show, Zenith's best to date, will can have through October.

New Corcoran director Peter Marzio is seeking funds to endow a chair for a curator of Washington art at the Corcoran. He made the announcement during a luncheon talk earlier this week at the Womens' National Democratic Club.

"It's still far off in the future, but I'm already talking to interested parties who might endow such a chair," he said. He gave no names.

Marzio said after his talk, "As I see it now, this would be an upbeat, relatively young person, not from Washington, who would spend most of his time in a car going around to look at the work or area artists." He added that the idea had originated with his associate director, Jane Livingston.