In 2003, Sotheby's declared that selling art online was a losing business.
"There are simply not as many people prepared to buy authenticated fine art online as we had hoped," Sotheby's Chief Executive William Ruprecht said at the time.
That year, Sotheby's broke off its partnership with online giant eBay, which it had hoped would help usher in a new age of buying Picassos and Monets with the click of a mouse. It didn't happen. By the time Sotheby's dissolved the 3-year-old partnership with eBay, it had racked up $100 million in losses.
Yet in the decade that followed, online art sales started to become big business, and Sotheby's archrival Christie's took the lead.
Christie's LIVE digital platform has become the undisputed leader in the space, with 83 online sales to date. It sold Edward Hopper's "October on Cape Cod" for $9.6 million in December, setting a record for an online bid in any saleroom auction.
In May, Christie's said it planned to invest an additional $20 million in LIVE.
Read MoreSotheby's and eBay team up...again
So, Sotheby's partnership with eBay is a counterattack. Call it Sotheby's 2.0.