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Francisco de Asís León Bogislao de Greiff Haeusler (July 22, 1895 – July 11, 1976), was a Colombian poet of the 20th century. Best known simply as León de Greiff, he is notable for his stylistic innovations and often used different pen names of which the most popular were Leo de Gris and Gaspar de Nuit. De Greiff was one of the founders of Los Panidas, a literary and artistic group in 1915 in the city of Medellínmarker that became the precursor of the modernismo movement in Colombia.


Family and background

León de Greiff at the age of one.
Taken by Melitón Rodríguez in 1896.

De Greiff was born on July 22, 1895 in the city of Medellín, Colombia, to Luis de Greiff Obregón and Amalia Haeusler Rincón. He was of Swedish descent by way of his father, who was the grandson of Karl Sigismund Fromholt von Greiff, a Swedish engineer and geographer who moved to Colombia in 1825 and whose family had played an active role in the abdication of King Gustav IV Adolf of Sweden, and of German descent by way of his mother who was the daughter of Heinrich Häusler, a German mechanic and cabinetmaker who emigrated to Colombia in 1839. He was baptized on August 11, 1985 at the Church Parish of Veracruz by Fr. Pedro Alejandrino Zuluaga with the names Francisco de Asís, in honour of Saint Francis of Assisi, and León, in honour of Leo Tolstoy. His godparents were his paternal aunt Rosa Emma de Greiff Obregón and her husband Luis Vásquez Barrientos. Albeit his mixed Scandinavian-Germanic-Spanish-Criollo heritage, de Greiff's family had a strong Colombian identity, and were part of standing mainstream Colombian society and his later works would reveal this influence.

On July 23, 1927 de Greiff married María Teresa Matilde Bernal Nicholls, a Colombian of English descent, in a Roman Catholic ceremony in the Cathedral of Villanueva officiated by fr. Bernardo Jaramillo Arango a mutual friend of both families. Together they had four children: Astrid, an architect; Boris, a renowned chess player; Hjalmar, a cellist and editor; and Axel an architect who resettled in Sweden.


He was educated at the Lyceum of the University of Antioquiamarker in Medellín and went on to study engineering at the School of Mines of the University of Antioquia. In 1913 the administration expelled him along with other students for claims of being "subversive and disruptive" victim of the political turmoil of the times and his leftist tendencies and associations. In 1914 he travelled to Bogotá as secretary ad hoc to General Rafael Uribe Uribe, a personal friend of his father. Once in Bogotá, he attended the Free University of Colombia to study Law, but did not finish his studies, choosing rather to drop out of school and focus on his writing and poetry instead. As he put it, his decision to move to Bogotá was not to become a lawyer: "It was rather to get to know Bogotá.


De Greiff liked statistics and accounts and for this reason he worked in some officials, while he consolidated his name as an intellectual and bohemian in Colombia. He was professor of literature and redaction in the Faculty of Engineering of the National Universitymarker between 1940 and 1945 and professor of history of the music in the Conservatory of the same university.

Los Panidas

In that movement were also the philosopher Fernando González Ochoa and the cartoonist Ricardo Rendón. The poetry of De Greiff is philosophical and sometimes difficult to understand, inspired in modernist authors, the same ones he read since he was young.

Caricature of León de Greiff by fellow panida Ricardon Rendón.
De Greiff did his first studies in Liceo Antioqueño. In the University of Antioquiamarker he started engineering, but the administration expelled him with other students in 1913 stating that "they were subversives." In that same year he was

The name of León is also in the list of boys, followers of the Liberal Party, who fought in bloodless battle against the boys of the Conservative Party of the Spaniard Rev. Cayetano Sarmiento in Plazuela de San Ignacio in Medellín on May 11 1913. It was a fight of boys in the plaza in a time where the feeling among both parties were delicated after the Thousand Days War. The Police stopped the three hours battle and most of the Liberals were brought to the station. The main leader of the Liberals was León de Greiff.

On February 1915 Leon de Greiff was also the main head of the foundation of Los Panidas, a group of 13 boys to publish a literary magazine with that same name. The first three editions had de Greiff as the director and the other seven numbers were under the Felix Mejía Arango name. In Los Panidas Magazine de Greiff published his first poem, La Balada de los Búhos Locos (The Ballad of the Mad Owls), and a work where he manifested his unusual vocabulary, his irony, humor and the intensive lyricism between archaism and modernism of his poetry.

The Antioquian poet defined like this the purpose of their literary movement:

But the life of the first literary and artistic modernist movement of Colombia endured only six months. In June 1915 they published the last number of the magazine and in that same month León de Greiff moved to the city of Bogotámarker.

Los Nuevos

In Bogotá, Leon de Greiff joined "Los Nuevos", another literary movement composed by personalities like Luis Vidales, Alberto Lleras Camargo, Rafael Maya and Germán Arciniegas. They published also their "Los Nuevos Magazine" that followed the most contemporary tendencies of Europe. Most of the members of that movement becama after journalist, and some of them remained poets, like de Greiff. Los Nuevos attacked the remains of the Hispano-American literary romanticism and costumbrism and questioned the political systems of their time.

In 1925 he published his first book of poetry, "Mamotreto", a title that would become a mark of identity of his works (he would publish other mamotretos along the rest of his life). The second Mamotreto appeared in 1930.


In 1958, after pressure from Juan Lozano y Lozano, President Alberto Lleras Camargo appointed de Greiff as First Secretary to the Colombian Embassy in Sweden, post in which he served from June 16, 1959 to September 30, 1963. Lozano y Lozano had originally proposed de Greiff for the post of Colombian Ambassador to Sweden, but President Lleras Camargo resisted this as he considered him to be too “bohemian” to represent the nation in that post. This bohemian and independent quality of him put him at odds with the appointed ambassador while serving as secretary especially for his indiscretions regarding his relationship with the Chinese Embassy which he frequented in various occasions at their invitation, this being breach of protocol as Bogotá did not maintain diplomatic relations with Beijing at that time. After the ambassador left his post, de Greiff became the Chargés d’affaires ad interim.

While in Sweden he gained fame and popularity even maintain a friendship with His Majesty King Gustaf VI Adolf, and who in 1964 awarded him the Order of the Polar Star in the grade of Knight .

In 1975 recognition of his diplomatic duties de Greiff was awarded the Order of San Carlos in the grade of Grand Officer by the Government of Colombia.


The Library Park León de Greiff designed by Giancarlo Mazzanti.

While in life, de Greiff was honoured by many institutions that recognized his contribution to literature and to the country not to mention various medals, and prizes. In 1967 he was made member correspondiente of the Academia Colombiana de la Lengua, and in 1974 honorary member of the Ministry of Culture’s Instituto Caro Y Cuervo. He also received various tributes like in 1955 from the Colombo-Argentinian Cultural Institute (es:Instituto Cultural Colombo-Argentino), in 1961 from the National College of Journalists (es: Colegio Nacional de Periodistas) presented by Gabriel García Márquez, an honoris causa doctorate in literature from the University of Vallemarker on July 16, 1975 and in that same year another tribute from the National Association of Financial Institutions (es: Asociación Nacional de Instituciones Financieras, ANIF), presented to him by its then president Belisario Betancur.

Arquitect Carlos Celis Cepero created in his honour the León de Greiff Hispanic-American Prize of Poetry (es: Premio Hispanoamericano de Poesía León de Greiff) which was first awarded on May 5, 1956 to the Venezuelan poet Juan Manuel González. And shortly after his passing, the National University renamed its Central Auditorium, now a National Monument and home of the Bogota Philharmonic in his name, and in 2007 when a new public library-park was built, the city choose to name it after de Greiff to preserve his memory and to promote culture and education in the city.


The works of de Greiff were controversial because he looked all the time for originality, style and a rich vocabulary. All the elements of his work is condensated in what he called the "Mamotretos", big compilations of his poems. At the end of the 1950s he moved to Swedenmarker as a consul of Colombia. In 1970 he received the National Prize of Poetry and he was a candidate to the Nobel Prize in Literature.


Other works

See also


Further reading

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