Dorothy W. Phillips, 71, curator emeritus of the Corcoran Gallery of Art, died Thursday at George Washington University Hospital after an apparent heart attack.

From 1958 until this year, Mrs. Phillips had been curator of collections at the Corcoran. During this time she devoted herself to the study of the gallery's American collection, and edited the two-volume "A Catalogue of the Collection of American Paintings in the Corcoran Gallery of Art." She also contributed articles to the Corcoran's Bulletin.

At the time of her death, as curator emeritus, she was helping to prepare an exhibition to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the acquisition of the W. A. Clark Collection. The exhibition is to be held in the spring of 1978.

Born in Camden, N.Y., Mrs. Phillips earned a bachelor's degree from Wellesley College. She also attended New York University and the Institutd' Art et Archeologie, the Sorbonne, Paris.

From 1930 to 1948, she was assistant curator in the Egyptian department of the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York. While there she wrote a book, "Ancient Egyptian Animals."

She was the widow of the late Ralph E. Phillips, an official of the Chase Manhattan Bank who served as deputy controller of the U.S. Far Eastern Command in Japan during the 1950s. Mr. Phillips died in 1969.

During her stay in Japan, Mrs. Phillips was a member of the executive board of the Japanese branch of the International Social Service Club and served as president of the College Women's Club in Tokyo.

She moved to Washington in 1958.

She was a Carnegie fellow, a member of the American Association of Museums, the Washington Print Club, and the City Tavern Club.

Mrs. Phillips is survived by three daughters, Diana Berrier, of Paris; Leslie May, of Riverdale; and Deborah Chodoff, of New York City, and three grandchildren.

The family suggests that expressions of sympathy may be in the form of contributions to the Dorothy W. Phillips Purchase Fund of the Corcoran Gallery of Art.