Fredrica Löf was a popular actress in the first ensemble at the royal theatre Kungliga Dramatiska Teatern. She was also a famous courtesan and cultural personality in Stockholm during the Gustavian era.
Fredrica Löf was born in 1762 in Stockholm, the eldest of nine children. Her father was a royal servant. From 1770, the family lived at Kindsugatan in the city between the bridges, a poor district where there were both cellar bars and brothels and where there were often brawls. The eight Löf sisters were considered very beautiful and soon became courtesans with preferably wealthy lovers. Two of the sisters married into the aristocracy later on and the youngest sister, Euphrosina, became the king’s mistress not once but twice. She also applied to the theatre and had certain success there around 1795–1800.
In 1780, Fredrica Löf was registered as single with her own home near Jakobstorg. She then had a daughter, Johanna Fredrika, whose paternity is unclear. Between 1786 and 1788 Fredrica Löf lived with David Frölich and had a son with him and possibly also a daughter.
It is not known whether Fredrica Löf applied to the theatre on her own initiative or because she was encouraged to do so. The theatre historian Georg Nordensvan points out that a noteworthy number of the theatre personnel came from a background of servants at the court, like Fredrica Löf’s father. Gustav III’s investment in Swedish-speaking theatre during the 1780s opened up a new field of work for women. The profession of actress made possible education, income and advertising but could also involve a dubious reputation. When Fredrica Löf started her acting education, she was already famous in the city as a courtesan.
When the Kungliga Dramatiska Teatern (now Dramaten), was founded, there was as yet no theatre school for pupils. According to recurrent information, Fredrica Löf was a pupil of the eminent French actor Jacques Marie Boutet, with the artist name Monvel. He was the leader of a French troupe employed by Gustav III in 1781 for performances at court. From 1783, the French troupe also gave public performances at Bollhuset near Slottsbacken. In Monvel’s assignment was included the tuition of aspiring Swedish actors and actresses.
Monvel, who came straight from the Comédie Français in Paris, taught a traditional style of acting with modern elements. It was founded on classical declamation that paid attention to the musicality of the text but which also emphasised certain psychological empathy and developed silent acting as well as experimenting with shifts in tempo. His tuition consisted mainly of the pupils’ free attendance at the French troupe’s public performances and probably in imitation of his and his co-players’ styles of performance. Whether or not Fredrica Löf understood French is unclear, but it was probably during her years as a pupil that she used the French spelling of her name – Frederique – and even made her surname aristocratic – Löven – possibly following the French tradition of taking an artist name.
Fredrica Löf made her debut in the role of Siri Brahe in Siri Brahe och Johan Gyllenstierna by Gustav III on 6 May 1788 at Bollhuset, which Dramaten’s ensemble shared with the French troupe. She made an immediate success. After that, she performed in both comedies and tragedies, mostly in the kind of role called ingénue: the young, noble and honourable paramour. Fredrica Löf was also considered a success in the opposite type of role, called grandes coquettes. In 1791, she played the title role in Drottning Christina by Gustav III, versified by Johan Henrik Kellgren. She interpreted the queen as proud and emotional.
Fredrica Löf’s style of acting was characterised first and foremost by soulfulness. According to the author Johan Henric Kellgren, she owned “the gift of the greatest vivacity, fire and feeling”. Her classical beauty, described as Greek, was often mentioned and she moved gracefully and filled her role characters with warmth and charm. Even her voice was considered special, and was described as clear, mellow and smooth.
Fredrica Löf was noticed by Kellgren also privately. Letters that have been preserved from him to his friend Edelcrantz reveal how he courted her and more or less sexually blackmailed her. Kellgren was powerful in the theatre world and one of Sweden’s first theatre critics in his newspaper Stockholms Posten. Finally, she gave in and had a relationship with him at the beginning of the 1790s. The Kellgren researcher Otto Sylwan speculates on the possibility that it was for Fredrica Löf’s sake that Kellgren took upon himself the translation of Voltaire’s Olympie, in which she played the title role when it was performed in 1792.
Dramaten moved in 1793 to the Makalös palace in Kungsträdgården. It was inaugurated on 1 November with Gustav III’s drama Den svartsjuke Neapolitanar’n. Fredrica Löf received a great deal of praise for her interpretation of the wrongly accused countess Elvire who was languishing in prison. In 1791, a new genre entered the repertoire with the middle-class melodrama Verldsförakt och ånger by August von Kotzebue. This type of drama suited Fredrica Löf’s style of acting. Despite Gustav III’s ambition that Dramaten should perform original Swedish plays, not enough Swedish drama was available. Therefore, the repertoire during the Gustavian era included a great deal of French drama. Fredrica Löf acted in many dramas by Racine and even Susanna in a production in 1799 of Le Mariage de Figaro by Beaumarchais. In 1802, she interpreted the title role in Semiramis by Voltaire, in which she received much praise for her royal majesty.
Fredrica Löf’s education had distinct limits since she could not read. This complicated her learning of parts which involved someone reading the texts aloud to her. She often received criticism for not knowing the text properly or not reproducing it exactly. When Carl Michael Bellman satirised the actors and actresses in Dramaten’s ensemble in a divertissement performed för Gustav III at Haga Castle on New Year’s Eve in 1789–1790, he showed how Fredrika Löf complained over all the learning of roles she had to spend time on. This gives an idea of how well known her problem with learning her parts was.
The actors and actresses at Dramaten did not receive their fees from the monarch, in contrast to the opera and the French troupe’s artists. Dramaten’s players received their incomes from lottery shares in the enterprise, and from a royal allocation to the theatre as a whole. This method of board governing was practised between 1788 and 1803 and Fredrica Löf was during that time one of the elected members of the theatre board. She had good income from her acting work since her salary was among the highest of all the actresses. She also had other privileges, like for example a box that she shared with the theatre’s other great female star Marie-Louise Marcadet, and that Fredrica Löf could use whenever she wished to see a performance. Access to a box was an honour that was only awarded to the theatre’s most eminent artists.
At the end of the 1790s or the first half of 1800, Fredrica Löf started a relationship with the artist and sculptor Johan Tobias Sergel. She is mentioned in Sergel’s letters in 1802–1813. Together with Sergel, she socialised with artistic circles in Stockholm and she was renowned for her hospitality. She and her sister Euphrosina are shown in drawings by Sergel, who with humour portrayed them in everyday activities. Sergel’s drawings show that Fredrika Löf became rather overweight as the years passed. As early as 1801 she was considered to have aged, but despite that interpreted “excellently well” the roles of queens and so-called grandes coquettes. She was active at Dramaten until the 1808–1809 season, but during the last years she performed seldom and then mainly in her former successful roles. The last time that Fredrica Löf performed is said to have been in Drottning Christina at a gala performance for the crown prince Karl August. Fredrica Löf must have received good income from all her lovers, to which her much spoken-of elegant home at Gustaf Adolfs torg bore witness. In 1810, she paid tax for three rooms and a kitchen as well as silk furniture. She had a housemaid, kitchen maid and servant. Even her estate inventory suggests that she was able to spoil herself with expensive clothes, furniture and her own carriage.
Fredrica Löf’s last years were spent with her daughter and son-in-law at Sörby country estate in Södermanland. She was in ill health, probably as a result of a stroke. She died at Sörby in 1813.