The Phalène is the drop-eared version of the Papillon, a toy breed also known as the Butterfly Dog or the Continental Toy Spaniel (Epagneul Nain Continental).
The Phalène is the earliest form of the Papillon; the appearance of the erect-eared variety was not documented until the 16th century, by which time the Phalène had been portrayed in numerous paintings, particularly in portraits of the wealthy by Old Masters and their students. Belgium, France, Spain, and Italy have all been credited with the creation or development of Butterfly Dogs. The Papillon gained popularity after the turn of the nineteenth century.
By the middle of the 20th century, the Papillon’s popularity had far outstripped that of the Phalène, which sank low enough into obscurity to become endangered. Fortunately, the breed had its fanciers and did not slip into extinction. At some point the variety was named phalène, or ‘moth’.
The 21st century has seen a revival of interest in the Phalène, with its fanciers pointing out that in countries where it is judged together with the Papillon, judges must be familiar enough with the breed standard to appreciate the qualities of a well-bred Phalène, and not confuse its dropped ears with those of a semi-erect eared Papillon, which would suggest a conformation fault.
The Phalène is considered a variant of the Papillon in the AKC, where they are registered as Papillons and shown and judged in the same classes. The breed standard is the same with the exception of the dropped ear, which does not sit as low on the head as that of other spaniel types. In nations where clubs follow the guidelines of the FCI, the Phalène is considered a separate breed.