David Edward Finley, 86, the creator of the National Gallery of Art and its first director, died Tuesday at his home in Washington.

A small, quiet man with a forceful capacity to accomplish large projects, he had been a major figure in Washington's artistic and cultural life for many years.

The funds to endow and build what often has been referred to as the Mellon Gallery and to purchase many of the works of art shown there came, of course from the late Andrew W. Mellon.

But the actual design of what has become a world-famous institution and the building of its collections into a treasure house of art were the accomplished of Mr. Finley.

He served as director of the National Gallery of Art from 1938 until retiring in 1956.

His contirbution in art and culture to both the nation's capital and the nation were not limited, however, to the gallery.

From 1950 to 1963, Mr. Finley was chairman to the Fine Arts Commission, a small but scrappy band of crusaders bent on protecting the beauty of Washington.

From 1950 to 1962, he was chairman of the National Trust for Historic Presevation. He also had served as chairman of the White House Historical Association.

He had been a member of the National Portrait allery Commission and the National Collection of Fine Arts Commission of the Smithsonian Institution.(TABLE)ot started intent on a career in the art world. He originally had aimed for a carrer in law. Born in York, S.C., he came to Washington at the age of 8 when his father, also named David Edwards, was elected a member of Congress.(COLUMN)Young David Finley went to school here and in South Carolina, and in 1910 guaranteed from the University of South Carolina. Three years later, he had earned a law degree from George Washington University. He practiced law briefly in Philadelphia then served as a second lieutenant in the Army Signal Corps in World War I.(COLUMN)After the war, he opened a w office here, specializing in income taxes, but found it a "terrible bore." So he gave it up and started working for the federal government, first as an assistant counsel at the War Finance orporation and then with the war loan staff at the Treasury Department.(COLUMN)His friendship with Mr. Mellon began when the latter became Secretary of the Treasury. Mr. Finley served as his special assistant from 1927 to 1932. He was sent to London in 1931 as an adviser to the American delegation to the London Financial Conference. A year later, when Mr. Mellon was named ambassador to Britain, Mr. Finley returned with him to London as honorary counselor at the American Embassy there.(COLUMN)It was during these years that Mr. Mellon had first begun to talk to Mr. Finley about the need for a great national art gallery in Washington. Mr. Finley began to assist Mr. Mellon in acquiring masterpieces, which later were given to the gallerry.(COLUMN)When Mr. Mellon left government service in 1933, Mr. Finley again opened law offices in Washington. His principal client was Mr. Mellon.(COLUMN)The plans for a gallery and the acquisition of masterpieces continued. Mr. Mellon then offered his art collection and money for the gallery to the government and it was accepted in 1937. But Mr. Mellon died that year before he could see his dream carried out. It was up to Mr. Finley to carry it out for him, and he did.(COLUMN)As its first director, Mr. Finley oversaw construction of the enormous marble structure. He planned the backgrounds for the different collections, which he built up. In addition to the Mellon collection, Mr. Finley essentially was responsible for acquiring three other famous art collections, the Kress, Widener and Dale collections.(COLUMN)A gardener by avocation, he insisted on the inclusion of garden courts in the gallery. He also introduced Sunday afternoon concerts, internationally famous lecture series, study collections and a library.(COLUMN)His work was hailed internationally. Art scholars and historians came from all parts of the world to study the collections. Always a modest man with beautiful manners, although he could be ruthless about getting what he wanted for the gallery, Mr. Finley in later years wrote a book "A Standard of Excellence," in praise of Mr. Mellon and his gift of the gallery.(COLUMN)"It should never be forgotten that it was Mr. Mellon's patriotism, his intelligence and his generosity that brought the National Gallery of Art into being, and that his gifts of works of art, together with those of other donors, have made the National Gallery one of the great art musuems of the world," Mr. Finley wrote in the foreward of his book.(COLUMN)After recounting the story of Mr. Mellon and his contribution, Mr. Finley ended with a chapter on his own views on the role of the art museum.(COLUMN)Noting that the days were past when museums were considered the domain of the "elite," he wrote that they should do two things: ". . . First to set up and maintain a standard of quality by collecting, preserving and exhibiting to the best advantage the finest works of art obtainable in their chosen fields; and second, to make those works of art known and enjoyed by the people of this country and, indeed, by people everywhere to whom, in the larger sense, these and all works of art belong."(COLUMN)Paul Mellon, trustee of the National Gallery, said yesterday:(COLUMN)"In David Finley's death, both the National Gallery of Art and my own family have lost a wonderful human being and a warm friend. He was my father's most trusted adviser for many years . . .(COLUMN)"As director of the National Gallery of Art from its inception until 1956, his contribution was invaluable. His tact, integrity, gentle persuasion and friendliness brought the gallery great paintings . . . J. Carter Brown, present director of the Gallery, called Mr. Finley a "remarkable contributor to the cultural life of this city and the nation by virtue of all the things he got rolling. He was the formative influence in the creation of the National Gallery and in persuading various collectors to give collections and in designing the building and the organizational structure of the institution."(COLUMN)When Mr. Finley retired as chairman of the Fine Arts Commission, President Kennedy accepted the resignation "with regret" and wrote:(COLUMN)"You and your colleagues have left Washington a more beautiful city and our community and nation stand deeply in your debt."(COLUMN)Mr. Finley had held many additional positions in the field of art. He was president of the American Association of Museums during 1945-49, and vice president of the International Council of Museums during 1946-49. Mr. Finley was vice chairman of the American Commission for the Protection and Salvage of Artistic and Historic Monuments in War Areas for 1943-46.(COLUMN)He was a member of the Washington National Monument Society and the Committee of the People-to-People Program during 1956-60. He was a trustee emeritus of the Corcoran Gallery of Art, an honorary fellow of the National Scupture Society and a member of the Association of Art Museum Directors.(COLUMN)Mr. Finley also belonged to Phi Beta Kappa and the Metropolitan, Alibi and Chevy Chase clubs.(COLUMN)He is survied by his wife, Margaret Eustis Finley, of the home; two daughters, Renee Beauregard, of Leesburg, and Mrs. Richard P. Williams, of Washington; two brothers, States Rights Gist Finley, of Chattanooga, Tenn., and John Campbell Finley, of Seattle, Wash.; two sisters, Mrs. J. Dexter Brown, of Anderson, S.C., and Mrs. Robert Lee Collins, of Greensboro, N.C., and three grandchildren. Services will be held at 11 a.m. Friday at St. John's Episcopal Church at Lafayette Square.(COLUMN)The family suggests that expressions of sympathy may be sent to St. John's Church Memorial Fund. (END TABLE) CAPTION: (TABLE) Picture, DAVID E. FINLEY (END TABLE)