Biography of Eva Gouel, Muse and Mistress of Pablo Picasso

Picasso's Cubist Inspiration

Women with a guitar

Wikiart / Public Domain

Eva Goeul (1885–December 14, 1915) was Pablo Picasso's lover during his Cubist collage period in the early 1910s, one of several influential and romantic partners in Picasso's life. She inspired a few of his most famous pieces of art, including "Woman with a Guitar," which is also known as "Ma Jolie" (1912).

Fast Facts: Eva Gouel

  • Known For: Muse and mistress of Pablo Picasso, 1911–1915
  • Born: 1885 in Vincennes, France
  • Parents: Adrian Gouel and Marie-Louise Ghérouze
  • Died: December 14, 1915 in Paris
  • Education: unknown
  • Spouse: none
  • Children: none

Early Life

Eva Gouel was born Eve Gouel sometime in 1885 to Adrian Gouel and Marie-Louise Ghérouze of Vincennes, France. At some point, she adopted the name Marcelle Humbert and claimed to have been married to a fellow named Humbert, but that doesn't seem to have been the case. Like most of the women Picasso met at this time—indeed, like many people in the late Belle Epoque (1871–1914) of Paris—Eva kept her background purposefully mysterious, going by different names that came from various sources.

In the correspondence of Picasso's friends at the time of their alliance, Eva was considered both sweet and calculating, described as a "small spicy girl who looked like a Chinese doll" by Italian painter Gino Severini (1893–1966).

Meeting Picasso

Picasso met Gouel in 1911 at the cafe Ermitage in Paris, when she was going by the name of Marcelle Humbert. She was living with the Jewish-Polish artist Lodwicz Casimir Ladislas Markus (1870–1941), a satirist and minor Cubist better known as Louis Marcoussis. At the time, Picasso had been living with his first muse, Fernande Olivier, since 1904. He was diligently absorbed in studies developing Cubism with painter Georges Braque, and Fernande was hotly jealous of that absorption.

Fernande and Picasso often went to the Paris cafes with Marcelle and Louis. On a number of occasions, they were all invited to the home of writer Gertrude Stein on the rue de Fleurus, a popular place for artists and writers in Paris at the time. Stein and Picasso were close friends, but she and her longtime partner Alice B. Toklas didn't spot the relationship between Picasso and Gouel until February 1912.

Fernande and Marcelle became fast friends: Fernande confided her miseries to Marcelle, including her unhappiness with Picasso. In 1911, Fernande began an affair with the young Italian Futurist Ubaldo Oppi (1889–1942). She asked Marcelle to cover for her in order to deceive Picasso, but it was a mistake. Instead, Marcelle began a clandestine affair with Picasso herself.

Picasso's Eve

Picasso began his affair with Marcelle—now going by Eva Gouel at Picasso's request—in late 1911. He began adding coded messages into his works, using allegorical imagery like bowls of peaches (that's Eva) and jugs with large spouts (that's Pablo). He also added written phrases like "J'aime Eva" (I love Eva) and "Ma Jolie" ("My pretty one") as elements of the paintings. The famous "Woman with a Guitar," the artist's first work in Analytical Cubism, painted between 1911 and 1912, contains "Ma Jolie," a nickname he gave to Eva after a popular song at the time.

Picasso asked "Marcelle Humbert" to return to a version of her birth name, in part because he wanted to distinguish this mistress from the wife of his friend and fellow Cubist George Braque, also named Marcelle. He transformed "Eve" into the more Spanish-sounding "Eva," and, to Picasso's mind, he was the Adam to her Eve.


On May 18, 1912, Picasso told Fernande that he had discovered her affair with Oppi and was leaving her for Eva. He moved out of her apartment, fired the maid, and pulled his financial support of her; Eva moved out of her flat with Louis Marcoussis, and the new pair left Paris for Céret in southern France. In June 1912, Picasso wrote to his friend and art collector Daniel-Henry Kahnweiler, "I love [Eva] very much and I will write this in my paintings." Horrified, Fernande left the penniless Oppi and decided to seek out Picasso to rekindle their relationship—or so Picasso feared.

Tucked away from the frantic Paris lifestyle in Céret, close to the Spanish border, Picasso and Eva got wind of Fernande's impending visit. They quickly packed and left instructions not to let anyone know of their whereabouts. They headed for Avignon and then met Braque and his wife in Sorgues later that summer.


In 1913, Picasso and Gouel visited Picasso's family in Barcelona, Spain, and talked about marriage. But Picasso's father died May 3, 1913, and that same year, Eva either contracted tuberculosis or developed cancer. By 1915, she had spent weeks in the hospital. Picasso wrote Gertrude Stein describing his life as "hell."

Eva died in Paris on December 14, 1915. Picasso would live until 1973 and have dozens of affairs, a handful of which were well-known relationships with women, all of whom affected his art and life.

Known Examples of Eva in Picasso's Art

Picasso's period of Cubist collages and papier collé flourished during his affair with Eva Gouel; he also took two photographs of her. A number of his works during this time are either known or thought to be of Eva, the best-known of which are:

  • "Woman with a Guitar" ("Ma Jolie"), 1912.
  • "Woman in an Armchair," 1913, Collection Sally Ganz, New York
  • "Seated Woman (Eva) Wearing a Hat Trimmed with a White Bird," 1915-16, private collection.
  • "Eva on Her Deathbed," 1915, pencil drawing, private collection


  • McAuliffe, Mary. "Twilight of the Belle Epoque: The Paris of Picasso, Stravinsky, Proust, Renault, Marie Curie, Gertrude Stein, and Their Friends through the Great War." Lanham, Maryland: Rowman & Littlefield, 2014.
  • Otterstein, Pola. "Pablo Picasso And His Women." Daily Art Magazine, November 28, 2017.
  • Richardson, John. "A Life of Picasso: the Cubist Rebel, 1907–1916." New York: Alfred A. Knopf, New York. 
  • Tucker, Paul Hayes. "Picasso, Photography, and the Development of Cubism." The Art Bulletin 64.2 (1982): 288-99.
  • Williams, Ellen. "Picasso's Paris: Walking Tours of the Artist's Life in the City." New York: The Little Bookroom, 1999.
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Gersh-Nesic, Beth. "Biography of Eva Gouel, Muse and Mistress of Pablo Picasso." ThoughtCo, Apr. 5, 2023, Gersh-Nesic, Beth. (2023, April 5). Biography of Eva Gouel, Muse and Mistress of Pablo Picasso. Retrieved from Gersh-Nesic, Beth. "Biography of Eva Gouel, Muse and Mistress of Pablo Picasso." ThoughtCo. (accessed June 4, 2023).