The Papillon, French for “butterfly”, is a small, friendly, elegant breed of dog of the Spaniel type, distinguished from other breeds by its large butterfly-like ears. The Papillon is one of the oldest of the toy Spaniels.
The history of the Papillon is traced through works of art. The earliest toy spaniels resembling the Papillon are found in Italy. Tiziano Vicelli painted these small dogs in many famous paintings beginning around 1500 including the Venus of Urbino (1542). Other well known artists who included them in paintings are Watteau, Gonzalez Coques, Fragonard, Paolo Veronese, and Mignard. In a painting after Largillierre in the Wallace Collection in London, a Papillon is clearly shown in a family portrait of Louis XIV. Papillons are also in paintings of royal families around Europe and paintings of merchant class families. The breed was popular in England, France, and Belgium, which are considered countries of origin.
The “Titian spaniels” and those portrayed by later artists through Mignard and his contemporaries had the drooping ears characteristic of today’s PhalÃ¨ne; it was not until the end of the 19th century that the erect-eared appearance became fashionable and gave the breed’s modern name, Papillon, French for “butterfly”. The Titian spaniels were also exclusively red-and-white in coloration, in contrast to the many recognized colorations of today’s Papillon.
The Papillon was first recognized by the AKC in 1935 with the formation of the Papillon Club of America. In 1999, Kirby became the first Papillon to win the prestigious “Best in Show” at the annual Westminster Kennel Club dog show. Kirby also won international success for the breed by taking the World Dog Show in Helsinki, Finland, and the Royal Invitational in Canada in 1998.
The Papillon has the appearance of a dainty toy breed, but many owners will claim that their dogs are “big dogs in little dog suits”. Some people find that their Papillon is very capable of handling a good five-mile walk. One aspect of the Papillon that has led many to believe the “big dog” assertion is this breed’s surprising athletic ability. In contrast to its staid and stately representation in the Old Master portraits, the Papillon is highly energetic and intelligent. The breed is far older than any other represented by the AKC and is more notable for its psychological abilities than its athletic parlor tricks; the Papillon’s true strength lies in its ability to perceive the emotional needs of its owner and to translate them into a healthy psychological environment. In other words, the animal becomes what the owner needs at the time, depending on circumstances. Papillons are built for movement, and most do not need any encouragement to apply their energy to athletic activities.
In recent years, the Papillon has become a small dog star in the sport of dog agility. This sport consists of an obstacle course with tunnels, jumps, A-frames, and narrow bridges that a dog completes at top speed aided only by verbal and body-language commands from a handler. Agility requires the dog to spring, scramble, weave, and turn on a dime. The breed is considered naturally agile, and Papillons compete at both national and international trials. Because many Papillons have intense drive and natural speed, their tiny turning radius gives them an edge over larger dogs, and some Papillons are capable of beating Border Collie speeds on some courses.
King Henry II allegedly spent upwards of 100,000 crowns on his papillons.
Marie Antoinette owned a PhalÃ¨ne, the drop eared variety of papillons. All papillons were drop-eared until the 20th century.
Madame de Pompadour and Henry III also had a PhalÃ¨ne, and possessed a very strong devotion to the breed.
Tech expert Leo Laporte owns a Papillon named Ozzy.
George Takei, Mr. Sulu from Star Trek owned a Papillon named Reine (her full name is “La Reine Blanche” — The White Queen).
Legendary screen star Lauren Bacall never travels without her own well-behaved Papillon.
Singer Christina Aguilera owns two Papillons, Chewy and Stinky.