Peter DeAnna, 59, A Washington realist painter and muralist and a retired visual information specialist for the Smithsonian Institute, died of cancer Thursday at George Washington University Hospital.

Like many artists, Mr. DeAnna, who rejected most contemporary painting and whose expressed desire was to paint "a handful of pictures of genuine quality," turned to illustration to support himself, his wife and four sons.

His paintings are included in the collections of the Corcoran Gallery of Art and the Hirshhorn Museum, as well as in a number of private collections. aHis last exhibit, a retrospective show of 22 oils -- portraits of family and friends, landscapes and still lifes filled with beloved scenes of places and objects -- was held at the Studio Gallery here early last year.

Washington Post art critic Paul Richard found these paintings to be "simiple, calm, a little rough, and almost daringly old fashioned," and cited Mr. DeAnna's "peculiar blend of affirmation and refusal" which todays seems almost new.

Benjamin Forgey, art critic of The Washington Star, called the show "an extraordinary exhibition of paintings . . . representing some three decades of work" by the artist.

Mr. DeAnna joined the Smithsonian Institution in 1956. His lifelike illustrations and murals appear in the National Air and Space Museum, from which he retired last year for health reasons, and in the national museums of history and technology and natural history.

His work for virtually every exhibit at the Air and Space Museum, includes a mural of a "dogfight" in the World War I gallery, an eight-foot painting of a balloon race in New Mexico in the Flying For Fun gallery, and a depiction of the Viking Lander zooming toward the planet Mars in the Exploring the Universe gallery.

He also had painted the murals in the children's section of the numismatics exhibition at the Museum of History and Technology and worked on the African Cultures and Prehistoric North American Cultures exhibits at the Museum of Natural History.

Mr. DeAnna was born in Uniontown, Pa., and grew up in Washington. He received his early art training at the Boy's Club here, where he also was a part-time instructor for the smaller boys. At the age of 16, he won first prize for his oil painting, "China Boy," in a Boys' Club of America exhibition held here in 1937.

He later studied at the Corcoran School of Art on a scholarship while attending old Central High School here. At the age of 19, he painted Post Office murals for the old Work Projects Administration and was an Army artist in this country and in France during World War II.

After the war, he studied at the Art Students League in New York City and exhibited his work at the Washington Irving Gallery there.

Survivors include his wife, Grace, and four sons, Paul, Ralph, Eugene and David, and two sisters, Catherine and Violet, all of Washington, and a brother, Louis, of North Carolina.