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These studies may relate to the Bible story of Elijah and the Priests of Baal, a subject from 1 Kings, which Turner was contemplating, as testified by the inscription on the previous page, folio 20 recto (D04014). The upper study is perhaps connected with the fleeing figures on the right of the composition in The Destruction of Sodom of about 1805 (Tate N00474);1 compare folios 23 recto and 26 recto (D04017, D04020).
The lower group may represent figures fainting of thirst as a result of the drought with which the Children of Israel were afflicted after they took to worshipping Baal. It is perhaps adapted from the group in the bottom right corner of the 1633–4 painting of The Adoration of the Golden Calf by Nicolas Poussin (1594–1665), now in the National Gallery, London, another subject concerned with the worship of false gods, which may have supplied Turner with ideas for the circle of dancing women which he drew on folio 18 recto (D04012) and inside the back cover (D04101; Turner Bequest LXIX 87). See also folios 22 recto and 23 recto (D04016, D04017).
Martin Butlin and Evelyn Joll, The Paintings of J.M.W. Turner, revised ed., New Haven and London 1984, p.44 no.56, pl.66.