THE boss of House of Bruar has defended the sale of a pair of statues described as “North African attendants”.

The luxury independent store in Pitlochry is known for its sale of country fashion and cashmere and is a popular stop-off for tourists and motorists travelling between Perth and Inverness.

It also has an art gallery, where the statues depicting two young black men holding trays are currently on sale for £8950. 

Venetian-carved, they appear to be in the "Blackamoor" style, a trope in Italian decorative art which commonly depicted Moors – dark-skinned Muslims from North Africa and the Middle East – in positions of servitude.

Art scholars have described the style as a way by which Europeans celebrated and normalised slavery. “They might have become synonymous with Old World luxury, but these items exploited servitude as ornamentation,” art historian Adrienne L Childs told House Beautiful magazine.

The National:

"They are works of art"

But Patrick Birkbeck, House of Bruar’s managing director, defended the sale of the statues, saying that they are “works of art” and that “people's tastes are different”.

He said: “The choice of selling the items is because we feel that they are works of art. And we like to give clients in our gallery options, some variety.

“We have lots of different styles of art. And there is no one art that everyone loves. That’s the thing about running a gallery – people's tastes are very different. They’re not unique, but they are original and we feel that it enhances the breadth of the gallery.”

"Naive and astonishing"

The sale of the statues was first brought to the attention of The National by a member of the public, who spotted the statues when visiting the store and called them “disturbing”.

They said: “To describe these figures as ‘attendants’ is disingenuous as they are clearly depictions of slaves.

“I find it naive and astonishing that House of Bruar would sell items like this without thinking of whether a sculptural celebration of slavery is an appropriate item to stock.

“Probably more disturbing than the objects themselves is the way they have chosen to describe them as ‘attendants’.”

The National:

"There isn't a great deal of thought"

Birkbeck explained that he is almost certain the description was taken from the auction house it was bought from.

He added: “There isn't any great deal of thought, one way or another, that has been put into it. I think that’s a description of what they are and how they were. That’s what they’re trying to depict."

The keen grouse shooting supporter added: “If we had a still life of dead game birds, we’d call them dead game birds.”

Asked whether it’s appropriate to have these statues displayed in people’s personal homes given their history rather than, say, museums, Birkbeck responded: “No, I don’t think that.

“You’ve got to probably consider that of 300 employees here [at House of Bruar], 50 work in the restaurant and 50 are walking around with trays, washing pots and pans.

“Are they servants? No. Are they slaves? No. Would we condone in any way, shape or form behaviour like that? No.”

He added: “Are we racist as a company? I’m going to say 100% not. I’m very comfortable with that position. It’s not even a question I would concern myself with because we’re not.

“No stats or data on how many people we employ from one country or another country is ever going to convince me. It’s about a philosophy.

“We are not a racist company.”

In June, House of Bruar aslo made a list of Scottish businesses that failed to pay their lowest paid staff the minimum wage. This comes despite the company making plans for a £2m expansion after a profitable 2022.