David E. Rust, 81, the curator at the National Gallery of Art for more than two decades until his retirement in 1984 and who owned a considerable art collection in his own right, died of renal failure April 8 at Grand Oaks assisted living facility in Washington. He had cancer.

At the National Gallery, his specialty was French painting, but his expertise extended to Spanish and Italian art.

His longtime home in the District, renovated by architect Hugh Newell Jacobsen and decorated by interior designer Mark Hampton, was filled with artwork such as pre-Raphaelite masterpieces by Dante Gabriel Rossetti and modern works by Sam Gilliam.

The Washington Post once described Mr. Rust’s private art collection, which included antique French furniture, as “second locally only to the great collection of David Lloyd Kreeger.”

David Edward Rust was a native of Bloomington, Ill., and a 1951 graduate of Harvard University. He received a master of fine arts degree from New York University.

 His marriage to Fiona Field, a descendent of Chicago retailer Marshall Field and daughter of the publishing magnate Marshall Field III, ended in divorce. Survivors include a daughter, Marina Rust Connor of New York City; a brother; and two granddaughters.

— Adam Bernstein