The significance of Aubrey Beardsley's illustrations and their modernity lies in the discord between ornamental elegance («surface») and their inner human content («symbol»). Pierrot, the embryo-dwarf, the hermaphrodite, the image of the woman, Pan are symbols through which the artist reveals himself. And yet, simultaneously, the meaning of the symbol is neutralized by the use of irony which serves as a mechanism of self-defence. Though much of Beardsley's art derives from secondary sources (literature, theatre, music and opera), Beardsley's book illustrations are not merely literary but are autonomous works of art. They convey a competitive tension between words and lines - books and drawings, the artist's versus the author's personality.
Beardsley, the fin-de-siècle artist, belonged to the same Zeitgeist as Freud and expressed visually certain themes Freud was then articulating. In this sense his artistic creations anticipated twentieth-century art.