Author Oliver Grau in his book, Virtual Art: From Illusion to Immersion, notes that the creation of an artificial immersive virtual reality, arising as a result of technical exploitation of new inventions, is a long-standing human practice throughout the ages. Such environments as dioramas were made of composited images.
The first and most famous mid-Victorian photomontage (then called combination printing) was "The Two Ways of Life" (1857) by Oscar Rejlander, followed shortly thereafter by the images of photographer Henry Peach Robinson such as "Fading Away" (1858). These works actively set out to challenge the then-dominant painting and theatrical tableau vivants.
Fantasy photomontage postcards were popular in the Victorian era and the Edwardian era. The preeminent producer in this period was the Bamforh Company, in Holmfirth, West Yorkshire, and New York. The high point of its popularity came, however, during World War I, when photographers in France, Great Britain, Germany, Austria, and Hungary produced a profusion of postcards showing soldiers on one plane and lovers, wives, children, families, or parents on another. Many of the early examples of fine-art photomontage consist of photographed elements superimposed on watercolours, a combination returned to by (e.g.) George Grosz in about 1915.
George Grosz wrote, “When John Heartfield and I invented photomontage in my South End studio at five o’clock on a May morning in 1916, neither of us had any inkling of its great possibilities, nor of the thorny yet successful road it was to take. As so often happens in life, we had stumbled across a vein of gold without knowing it.”