Robert Descharnes has confirmed the authenticity of this watercolor.
Dalí was increasingly drawn to classical mythology in the years immediately following the end of the Second World War, and he sought to interpret recent events in the context of ancient history and myth. In a list of "Tastes and Prophecies for the Next Ten Years", which the artist published in his Dalí News on 25 November 1947, he predicted: "After the First World War, it was the Romantics. After the Second World War, it shall be the Classicists" (quoted in R. Descharnes, Dalí, Lausanne, 1984, p. 292). When referring to the Romantics of the 1920s, Dalí had the Surrealists in mind. Two decades later Dalí was seeking his own classical synthesis in the arts, in which the violence and disorderliness of instinct would be supplanted by the rule of intelligence.
Dalí worked in Hollywood in 1946-1947, and brought his new interest in classicism to the major project he undertook there, the designs for the Walt Disney film Destino. Planned as a mingling of live action and animation, this collaboration between Dalí and the Disney studio ran into difficulties and was not produced. The scenario dealt with an adolescent girl who consorted with Jupiter, the chief god in the Roman pantheon. Monsters were to emerge and disappear into primordial waters.
Dalí carried over the water theme into the present painting, in which he depicts Neptune, the brother of Jupiter and the Roman god of the sea, in his contest with the goddess Athena (who is not shown), as they contend to assume the role of patron and guardian to the people of Attica, the land around the city of Athens. To demonstrate his power Neptune used his trident, a three-pronged spear, to split a rock on the Acropolis. This caused a stream of salt water to flow, for which the inhabitants were grateful, but was of limited use. Athena, the goddess of knowledge and wisdom, presented to the city an olive tree, seen at lower right, a fruitful and lasting gift that Athenians believed was still flourishing on the Acropolis during the much later reign of Pericles.
Dalí appears to have also taken a revisionist and more contemporary slant on this fable. He reinterpreted Neptune's gift of the waters in the context of the local history of Los Angeles, a city that owed its very existence to judicious management of scarce water resources and crop irrigation. Here Neptune has become the embodiment of the visionary city engineer, who has brought water into the desert and allowed the land to bloom, as seen in the green patch around the budding tree. The obelisk, surmounted by an angel emblematic of the "City of Angels", represents the growth of the metropolis and its future potential, while the city's inhabitants have gathered to celebrate these seemingly miraculous feats of human technology.