Richard Lahey, 85, principal emeritus of the Corcoran School of Art and an artist whose work is represented in major museums and private collections, died at the Fairfax Nursing Center Tuesday following a stroke.

As a painter, he was a product of the "Ash Can School" of painting founded early in this century in New York City. But he considered himself more a teacher of art than an artist who teaches. He introduced the method of teaching by demonstration and believed the first function of a teacher was to get students excited and eager to work on their own.

Mr. Lahey studied for four years at the New York Art Students' League and during summers abroad in Europe. He came to Washington in 1935 as principal of the Corcoran School of Art, the fifth person to hold that post, and in 1937 joined the faculty of Goucher College in Baltimore as professor of fine arts.

He served during World War I for 18 months with the Camouflage Corps of the Navy. He began his career in earnest when he established a studio in Jersey City, where he had been born and began to show his work in exhibitions.

His teaching career began in 1921 when he joined the faculty of the Minneapolis School of Art.In 1923 he was appointed to teach at the Art Students' League in New York and stayed there until moving to Washington in 1935.

His first major recognition as a painter came with the 1925 Tuthill Prize from The Art Institute of Chicago. He also worked during this period as a free-lance artist for the New York World Sunday Magazine and for Alexander Woollcott of the New York Times. He was noted for his caricatures of prominent actors of that era, such as John Barrymore, Elsie Janis and Eddie Cantor, as well as writers Eugene O'Neill Robert Benchley and Heywood Broun.

He received many other prizes and awards during his career, including the prestigous Beck Gold Medal for portraiture from the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts.

His teachers at the New York Art Students League included Robert Henri, one of the original "eight" founders of the "Ash Can School of Art," also known as the "New York Realists" because of the emphasis it placed on graphic depictions of daily life, and George B. Bridgman, a recognized authority on anatomy. He also studied with Max Weber, a cubist and modernist who studied with Henri Matisse.

Mr. Lahey's work is represented in the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the National Collection of Fine Arts, the Whitnery Museum of American Art and numerous other American museums, as well as in such private collections as that of the late Mrs. John D. Rockefeller Jr.

The Corcoran Gallery put on a retrospective exhibition of Mr. Lahey's work in 1963 and the University of Georgia exhibited his work in 1963. tr for ad three

He was a member of the American Society of Painters, Sculptors and Gravers and The Washington Society of Artists, as well as numerous other professional organizations.

His survivors include his wife, Carlotta G. Lahey, a sculptress, of the home in Vienna, and two sisters, Elizabeth McNally and Martha Lahey, both of New York City.