Summer's on the wane, and you still haven't visited a decent destination. How does a quick trip to France or hasty junket to Greece sound -- no passport or plane ticket required?

The Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, fills the bill for that French interlude with its stellar exhibit "French Pastels: Treasures from the Vault." On view through Jan. 6, the show gives viewers a chance to see nearly 40 masterworks in pastels by 10 avant-garde artists who reinvigorated the challenging medium in the 19th century. Included are depictions of rural life by Jean-Francois Millet and Edgar Degas' famed portrayals of ballerinas.

Drawn primarily from MFA holdings and supplemented by loans from a private collection, the exhibition is organized thematically. It showcases the artists' use of the colorful sticks of ground pigment to capture the ephemeral -- fleeting facial expressions, the movement of fabric, atmospheric effects -- and beauty in the mundane.

Pastels do not require the drying time of oils and are suited to capturing these momentary goals. New and bold colors were made possible by the arrival of synthetic dyes and encouraged experimentation in the mid-19th century. Millet and Degas were leading innovators, exploring with pastels. In addition to the pastels, the exhibition highlights works by such contemporaries as Casssatt, Monet, Pissarro and Renoir. Visit www.mfa.org for info and hours.


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Meanwhile, the Museum of Russian Icons in Clinton makes a trek to Greece possible with its current exhibition "Icons of the Hellenic World," on view through Oct. 21. It is the first major exhibition there to focus exclusively on Greek and Byzantine iconography, and delves deeply into the links and continuity of Greek art and culture from the late antiquity period through Byzantium and to the present. Included are numerous icons and objects from Crete, plus pieces from the Greek Islands in the Aegean Sea and others from the so-called Ionian School.

The exhibit is from the collection of Athens-born Emmanuel Tiliakos, a leading expert and avid collector of Greek and Russian icons. "The museum is grateful to Tiliakos and his wife, Argie, for the opportunity to showcase their extraordinary collection and give contemporary views a window into Greek culture and history," said museum CEO/curator Kurt Russell.

Visit www.museumofrussianicons.org for info.

Nancye Tuttle's email address is nancyedt@verizon.net.

Art picks

YOUTH ART SHOW: Lowell's Whistler House Museum of Art hosts a "Graduation Exhibition" on Thursday, Aug. 16, 11 a.m.-4 p.m. Featured are drawings, paintings, sculpture, prints and collages created by student artists, ages 9-14, who participated in the Whistler's Youth Summer Art Program. The program welcomed students of all levels and backgrounds and provided scholarships to low-income families.

FESTIVAL TIME: You don't have to leave Lowell to experience cultural fun from far off places. This Saturday, Aug. 18, the 22nd annual Southeast Asian Water Festival returns to the banks of the Merrimack River along the Vandenberg Esplanade. On all day from 8 a.m.-8 p.m., enjoy traditional Asian food, dance, music and the ever-popular boat races. For info, visit the fest's Facebook page or www.likelowell.com. ... The following Saturday, Aug. 25, enjoy the lively culture of Brazil at the Brazilian Food Festival, on tap at JFK Plaza, adjacent to Lowell City Hall, 11 a.m.-9 p.m. Besides food, the fun includes music, dancing and kid's activities.

LEARN TO PAINT: Dracut-based artist/teacher Claire Gagnon presents her popular "Initiation to Painting" class Thursday, Aug. 23, 11 a.m.-1 p.m., at the Arts League of Lowell, 307 Market St., Lowell. Geared to beginner adults with no previous experience required, Gagnon teaches in a relaxed atmosphere that encourages experimentation through a simple, fun activity. Cost is $20 (supplies provided). Register at www.artsleagueoflowell.com.

WALK AND TALK: Concord Museum hosts a one-mile "Emerson's Circle Walk" on Saturday, Aug. 25, 11 a.m.-12:30 p.m. It will be led by a museum educator, and participants will explore 1800s Concord and discover the impact of the anti-slavery movement and the Civil War on the people of Concord. They will also visit the homes of several famous authors -- Emerson, Thoreau and Alcott -- who lived there at the time. The tour starts at Wright Tavern, 2 Lexington Road, Concord, rain or shine. Cost is $10 for adults, $8 for seniors and students ages 5-17; free to museum members; advance registration is required. Visit www.concordmuseum.org.